Myst – A Stranger In A Strange Place

mystcover

The Myst cover,  taken from (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myst#Plot)

Many of you may know this game. Many more of you will probably not. In either case, Myst remains one of those games now well cemented into gaming, and pop culture. Designed and directed by brothers Robyn and Randy Miller, Myst brought gaming into a whole new world when it released on the Mac OS in 1993 and on a huge variety of systems from 1995 onwards. I was a youngling then, but grew up with my parents, especially my mother, playing the game, and as a result I have an attachment to the series.

I’m not sure what triggered my sudden desire to re-immerse myself in the world of Myst, but whilst I let GOG download Myst: Masterpiece Edition to my laptop, I set my Kindle to downloading the Myst Reader, the collection of three prequel books written. I remembered reading The Book of Atrus, a brown coloured paperback, well loved before I got my hands on it. Whichever form Myst has taken, I have still retained a love for it, and I have once more taken the plunge through the book to begin a new journey.

If, and when, you can get Myst to run (I had to play it through GOG rather than Steam for some reason), it runs in good old 800×600. Those were the days, eh?

 

myst first shot

The dock

Anyway, you are ‘The Stranger’, an unknown someone who has entered the world of Myst through a book. You arrive on the island of Myst at a dock, and presented with nothing more than your cursor and your own motivation to adventure. Myst is a point and click game, and as such uses only the mouse to move and interact with things in the world. Even the right hand button has no function in the game. With your trusty mouse, you set off to figure out where you are, why you’re there and how to leave, if such a thing is possible. With little in terms of direction or narration, you are left to click things and work your way around the game’s logic.

There are three aspects to Myst, in my opinion. Firstly, the books. As mentioned, you arrive on Myst as a result of falling into a book. You will use other books throughout the game to travel to other locations, and piece together some of the puzzles.

myst age book

An example of a linking book, key to your travels around the island.

The second aspect is those puzzles. You must solve puzzles to acquire pages of two books, a red and a blue, and to open up and explore new areas.

myst engine puzzle

An example of one of Myst’s many puzzles

The third aspect is related to the red and blue books, and is an underlying mystery throughout the Myst universe. You are introduced, very slowly, to some of the inhabitants of the main island. These inhabitants are members of one family, the patriarch of which is Atrus. As The Stranger, you’ll be drawn into the relationships of the family – Atrus and Catherine, and their two sons Sirrus and Achenar, who are tied to the red and blue books. I won’t reveal anymore, but I do recommend you read some of the in-game stuff that relates to the family.

On a side note, the two brothers are played by the Miller brothers (at least in the original game), Robyn as Sirrus and Randy as Achenar.

Aside from the little tidbits you’re drip fed through the game, there’s very little to work with to help solve the puzzles. I’ve been keeping notes as I went along, in order to keep track of things. You get given some small clue, and from there you must work out the logic and follow it to open a new path. Sometimes, this can be a little obtuse, though nowhere near as bad as some other, more recent games have used. Playing this as an adult, the logic steps make much more sense than they did when I was younger (obviously, but it shows that the game isn’t being illogical for the sake of it), and I found myself whizzing through an area pretty quickly.

myst atmos

An image you’ll see a lot during your adventure. This and the dock are the two most memorable shots for me.

So if the story isn’t drawing you in, what is it about Myst that still holds so many people’s attention? For a start, the atmosphere. In fact, atmosphere is a huge part of what keeps Myst in my mind. From the moment you drop onto the island, the music, sound effects and visuals all work together brilliantly to create a sense of fear and dread, and yet also of adventure and mystery. It’s a strange mix that would sometimes put me off as a youngling, but today I value. I heard the title piece playing on a video game radio station not long back, and had the same shivers up my spine then as I did when I was young, and instantly recalled the game, despite not hearing or having played the game in years.

Myst does have its flaws. Today the graphics, even in the Masterpiece Collection, are found wanting. Of course they are, the game came out in the mid 90s and I won’t berate the game for that. It’s a warning that even if you think you’ll enjoy the game, you won’t be playing in 4K. Game wise I think it needs a method of recording information. The DS version (the only other version I have played, and it wasn’t good) has a form of notepad you can jot temporary things down with, but I find myself keeping a physical, real world notepad for the game.

Other faults with the game are nothing but limitations with the hardware of the time. You can’t complain about textures or voice overs of an old game if they were doing the best they could with the technology available at the time.

Myst went on to be the best selling PC game until The Sims overtook it in 2002. Would it benefit from an upgrade? It kind of has, and with its availability on Steam and GOG, my hope is that it will reach new audiences who missed out first time round. The question I want to ask is this. Would it do as well as it did if it was being released in today’s gaming environment, with all the bells and whistles and superior graphics that come with gaming today? I’m not so sure. Perhaps as an indie game it would become a hit in the way something like Her Story has, hitting a sweet spot in a small gap in the market. An intriguing thought, but one that is ultimately irrelevant. It was a hit and now echoes in the annals of gaming history, and still lives on.

So go on, open a book and fall in.

Khin

Khin has been lost to a teleporting book, and is somewhere unknown. Before she fell in, she did record this message: All images and products belong to their respective owners, and except for the first image of the Myst cover, all images are screenshots taken by Khin of her own playthrough.

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