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URU was conceived as a 'multiplayer Myst' - an MMO with puzzles as the core mechanic, and with players working together in groups forming friendships and figuring the gameworld's obstacles out together.

RealMyst, in 2000, had been disappointing in its boxed sales run, but Cyan continued developing the engine and adding new shaders and features from the glossy water effects, to multiplayer functionality and character customization.

The game was launched as a singleplayer part that could easily open up into multiplayer for those players with cable or DSL internet, and by the time of launch the project had burned through $12 million - what was involved in making a pipeline of new worlds, puzzles, collectible items, story developments, and content designed by the launch date in fall 2003.

Uru - Myst Online

The game - as a realtime 3D Myst spinoff - wasn't quite as detailed as the pre-rendered titles like Riven or Myst 3, but easily a few notches above the original Myst, and the team of 50 ramping up development of new content intended to add new areas and new story developments every month, keeping players engaged through a fresh flow of actual new content instead of a long grind.  The story was set in the present day; explorers wandering off the beaten path in a desert would discover a pasage underground - the Cleft - which led to a large underground city, long abandoned, where Atrus's ancestors and the D'ni race had lived quietly for centuries until their society was wiped out.

Uru - Eder Delin

The links to other worlds strewn about from this city would be monitored by an organization called the DRC (D'ni Restoration Council) and the DRC would attempt to explore, somewhat cautiously, the strange archaeological site and attempt to learn about the past residents of the city, their culture, history, technologies, etc, and they also tried to keep visitors from the surface of Earth safe while they explored it.  The DRC was counterbalanced by Yeesha, Atrus's now aging and fairly cryptic daughter, who insisted that rebuilding the city and the civilization that had wiped itself out would be a mistake.
The third faction, the Bahro, were slaves of the D'ni who now no longer had their masters' yoke forced upon them.  Bahro, Yeesha, and DRC reps appeared intermittently in the cavern and its connected worlds, and would converse with players.  They weren't AI bots; they were actual Cyan staff playing roles.  About a dozen characters existed and were operated by three or four Cyan staff part-time, usually in public areas.  Notable story figures would often be rapidly mobbed by players and appeared at random times which meant while most players would catch a handful of events, the rest would have to be relayed to them verbally or through screenshots/screen recordings after the fact.  

Uru Live - Teledahn

Art direction, as with Myst V later on, was handled skillfully by Stephan Martienere, and the music was composed well by Tim Larkin.  The online part of the game was shut down in a broad sweep by a decision high up at Ubisoft (the publisher) only three months after opening day.

A lot of what was partially developed for the game when the shutdown hit, was converted into a singleplayer expansion pack or restructured for use as part of the Myst V content.

The online game, which ran from early fall 2003 to the end of that year, would be reopened by Turner, as an exclusive part of their Gametap online game service in 2006, and it ran there with a slightly slower stream of new content releases until early 2008, when Uru shut down a second time.  
Finally, Cyan reopened it in 2010 in a largely stagnant form, with no new content or story, as-is, for free on MystOnline.com.  While the original run had a Cyan dev team of 50 and the second run had 37, nowadays Cyan has only 2-3 people working on it part-time, releasing an occasional patch and maintaining the existing online servers.

Myst Online - Ae'gura

It's free and open to basically anyone and everyone who wants to try it, but players who wish to support it and help Cyan cover the cost of keeping it online do have the option of donating a few dollars to the studio's Uru operating fund every once in a while for that purpose.

Arguably, in terms of sheer number of worlds and sheer explorable area, it's the single biggest Myst game ever made.  Fans continue trying to develop new content to keep the game fresh but these fan ages are very, very slow in coming along, as there are only a few fans doing this who have real enthusiasm and relevant skills, and the few who are working on new Uru worlds are doing so part time as a hobby.  It has been an agonizingly slow process for all of these reasons, especially when we consider the fact that at first when the game reopened we had no viable way to even output fan content that was functional in multiplayer.  As time passed Cyan handed us their own toolset but it was built into 3DS Max, and few fans can justify buying software that costly for a mere hobby.  Nowadays those tools are being reverse engineered by Adam Johnson into 'Korman' - a toolset that is not as stable or complete as the 3DS max equivalent but which is built into Blender and can export content for multiplayer.  Korman is still inching forward and it is hoped that soon enough fans *might* get a first few ages output from that plugin to Uru and approved by Cyan, then added as part of a patch or update.  

Objectively, that could be good news, but the fanbase is eroding and has become fairly demoralized when it comes to Uru and has had to cope with a long string of disappointments and delays since 2003.  The game is already limping along and is now very, very out of date technologically.  It's debatable at this point whether Uru can ever be successfully revitalized or if it'll just continue to languish until donations dry up and it shuts down one final time.

I'm personally hoping it stays online for years, as it'd be a shame to see worlds like Minkata, Eder Delin, Eder Tsogahl, Jalak, and Reziksehv [the pod age, which includes Negilahn, Payiferen, Dereno and Tetsonot] become permanently inaccessible to players [never available again] and it'd be amazing if there were some sort of awakening in Uru with waves of fresh, new, high quality content from fans or even Cyan eventually. Unlikely? Maybe, but I am still holding out hope for this someday and actively trying to help make it happen. Here is a video overview I've thrown together which contains 15 minutes of video clips of many of Uru's various explorable locations, set to random fragments of the Uru soundtrack. It's a lousy edit and there are some weird compression issues on the audio especially but all things considered it's a passable reel and gives a decent hint of what Uru looks and sounds like:



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