It was about 15 years ago that the world was shocked by one of the most artistic games ever to be made. For years, Myst was the best-selling PC game (to date it has only been topped by “The Sims”). Myst has been ported to a variety of consoles and platforms in the last fifteen years, and it’s also seen two significant remakes (“Myst: Masterpiece Edition” and “RealMyst”). Almost a dozen different publishers around the globe have, in some way, been tied to this franchise. It’s a big deal.
But maybe, somehow, you’ve managed to avoid this phenomenon. What’s all the fuss about? Read on to learn more.
It’s not as surprising as it was 15 years ago, but even these 8-bit color still images, pre-rendered in 3D, can impress fans of scenic art. And that’s exactly what Myst is: scenic. Over 1000 still images, alongside a number of video sequences embedded within the still images, make up pretty much the entirety of this point-and-click adventure title. The color palette is what I like the most. Across the various “Ages” in Myst, we see a lot of cool blues and greens, but there are also strong, dark reds and earth tones to be found. The concept artists and the 3D artists who helped make the finished product were far ahead of their time. Anyone who looks at screens from this game and compares them to other games of 1993 simply has to agree.
In both the PC and Mac versions, at the time of its release, there were a lot of graphical errors and glitches. This was especially the case with the built-in Quicktime movies…they would regularly appear to be either in the wrong position, or negativized. But otherwise, the game was breathtaking then. And in this reviewer’s opinion, it still is breathtaking.
Rand and Robyn Miller, co-founders of Cyan and creators of Myst, did a lot of this first game on their own. In fact, Robyn Miller composed all the music used in Myst, as well as its sequel (Riven). As the series progressed and Ubisoft gained more control over the series, different composers would step up to score the other games of the Myst series. If I could have one wish for this franchise, it would be that Robyn Miller continue the difficult task of music composition.
Three words best describe the soundtrack to Myst: ambient, atmospheric, minimalist. For many people, those are bad qualities to have in music; but let me say, in the context of the game, it is absolutely perfect. Music isn’t always playing in the background, though. Sometimes you are faced with silence, and maybe some environmental sound effects (like the sound of waves crashing or birds chirping). The timing for the music is part of what makes Myst so wonderful.
The sound effects in Myst were well-crafted. I remember watching a “making of” movie for Myst, where they described their epic quest to find the perfect undersea “bubble” noise for the Stoneship Age. Ultimately, they ended up blowing bubbles in a toilet. Hand-crafted sound effects make my day! I’ll also give a nod to the actors who played Atrus and his two sons. They did a decent job delivering lines in a believable manner.
In Myst, you play the part of a nameless stranger (presumably, yourself). You have somehow stumbled into the world of Myst, which was created by men through the power of the written word. Think “Neverending Story,” but backwards. Certain gifted individuals have the power to create worlds, or “Ages” as they call them, by literally writing them into a book. Then, upon touching the book, they can enter their created world. This is the mythology behind all of the Myst series, including the surprisingly well-written books that were published alongside the games. Interested gamers can read all about Myst, Riven, D’ni, and other Ages this way.
However, in the actual game, the story is not given to you by way of narrative. In fact, little is revealed to you in a direct manner. The world itself tells the story. You can glean bits and pieces of knowledge as you solve the puzzles and gander at the beautiful, powerful images that appear on your screen. There are also a lot of books to read within the game, though some of them have been burnt to a crisp by an evildoer who is only revealed at the game’s end. These books will not only help the player solve a number of difficult puzzles, but they also give a real sense of what has happened, and what is still happening, in these various Ages.
I find myself surprised that I would give such a high “story” score to a game whose plot feels small in scope and unconventional in execution. But, here I am, declaring that the world of Myst captivated me so fully as a child and does so still to this day, that I must be true to myself and award a decent score.
Though there were point-and-click adventures that came before Myst, everyone agrees that Myst (alongside “The 7th Guest”) popularized the genre and helped it thrive throught the 1990s. There isn’t a lot to say about actual “gameplay” in a P&C adventure. You point, you click, you move forward. As far as I’m concerned, only three things can be adequately judged regarding Myst’s gameplay: 1) the size and scope of the game, 2) the puzzles and their respective difficulty, 3) the mechanics and user interface.
At the time of its release, Myst was huge. Technically, it is the smallest game in the series, as each subsequent game grew in size (with Riven being the biggest leap). But at the time, Myst was a world in which you could truly get lost. There was no equivalent in the gaming industry back then. Even today, if you don’t know your way around, it’s easy to just enjoy the worlds. However, exploration is quite limited since all you have are still images. There are so many times that you’ll want to click to go somewhere, but the option simply doesn’t exist.
The puzzles are sufficiently challenging, particularly because you are given minimal direction. The player has to take the initiative to figure out what’s going on in every single frame, and take notes regularly. Even then, a lot of the puzzles require “guess and check” strategies to figure out. There are plenty of levers and switches that may seem to do nothing at first glance, but their purpose will eventually be discovered. There is a purpose to almost everything you find.
The big problem I found with Myst, as a game, was the “Where’s Waldo”-ism of the mouse. The mouseover on the screen gives little icons (arrows, a hand, a pointing finger, etc) letting you know what will happen. But there are little buttons, only a few pixels in size, that you may not notice until you mouse over it. In fact, there are also times in the original version that the mouseover doesn’t function properly, and so you’re left frantically clicking to figure out what to do next. And of course, this inevitably leads to changing screens when you didn’t want to. This was extremely frustrating.
The rest of the game functioned well, of course. The “save anywhere” feature was big for its time, and the “zip mode” (which allowed you to move from screen to screen without the normal transition animation) was a handy addition so that you could backtrack more quickly.
If you’ve never played Myst, you really ought to play it. There have been numerous ports, some faring better than others. In this reviewers’ opinion, Myst is a classic in the sense that it has passed the test of time. It is also one of the first games you can use as a solid example of “gaming as art.” If that sounds like something appealing to you, yet you’ve somehow missed the Myst train all these years, hop on board! You’re in for quite a treat.