(fun factoid)

Myst was originally written on the Mac in Hypercard. Of course the hypercard stack is protected, so you can't tell that by running it, but it's true. Thats why it took a while to port over to the PC.

(Hypercard is an old mac programming model, used by many as their first programming environment. Go to that node to learn more.)
I've just played Myst (The Masterpiece Edition) today, paying £15 instead of £35 or £45 for Myst III. Figured I'd save £20 if I didn't like it, and I'd know the plot first if I did.

I didn't like it.

The age shows, slightly. That's not bad - I expected that, and the gameplay wasn't affected by it. But there were a number of major failings.

  • It was too easy

    I have just played Myst today. Past tense. I bought it at lunchtime, came home, installed it by three, and had completed it by eleven, including a break for tea. So that's all of eight hours of solid gameplay. Whoa.

    Admittedly, Myst was written in a vacuum. Being the first game of its type, many parts have become common place in other similar games, such as Monty Python's Meaning of Life and Discworld Noir, both of which I've played and completed. Like IQ tests, there is a certain learning factor, making each successive game slightly easier.

  • It was buggy

    You put two pieces of paper together, and part of it reads 'First ... turn every ... switch to the 'off' position. Then go to the dock and ... turn the Marker Switch there to the 'off' Position.' So that sounds simple: turn them all off, the dock one last. But no. Read the cheats, as a last resort, and it says the exact same thing. Just with 'on' in place of the first 'off'.

  • It was too easy to cheat

    Admittedly, this is possibly my fault. But to get a general hint, all you have to do is click the black band at the bottom of the screen, a little like the letterbox.

    But as before - it's sometimes nessacary. And usually they don't tell you much more than you already know - just enough to say 'Yes, you're on the right track'.

And that's it. Three problems. Three huge problems.

Not to say that the plot's great, or anything else.

Much like AI - don't believe the hype.

Myst may not have been the first video game ever made. This is true. It may not be the most challenging. It may also not be the newest, the funnest, the most flawless or the most advanced. What, then, could possibly be its big draw?

Simply this: Perhaps more than any other title before or since, Myst profoundly redefined the way people looked at computer games.

In a way, it was more of a work of interactive art than it was what would traditionally be thought of as a game. There was no high scores to match, no swarming hordes of enemies to defeat, no time-clock mercilessly rolling down in the corner of the screen.

Instead of all these, Myst simply picked you up, whirled you about and then gently set you down on the docks of a distant shoreline-- unarmed, alone, and without a single obvious purpose for being there. At that same moment, it had already begun to infect your mind, to blur the lines between puzzles, movies, books and art. In the final analysis, this incredible multimedia immersiveness was what gave Myst its true mystique. (no pun intended)

This was the game where all the pieces would come together. From graphics more astounding than the average gamer had ever seen on a computer screen, to the fantastic sound effects, to the seamless and utterly haunting musical score, to the dark and convincing portrayal of the two main characters, Sirrus and Achenar, as played by the game's lead designers, Rand and Robyn Miller... It sucked you in.

It was a bizarre world, but it also seemed to make a strange sort of sense, such that when you unlocked the Buck Rogers rocketship parked next to the library, discovering that it was completely empty except for a box of switches and a grand piano, it didn't even strike you as all that odd. And no matter how many times you told yourself it was just a computer program, you'd still catch yourself leaning in to the monitor, craning your neck as if to see something just beyond the imaginary field of view...

The other thing about Myst that I found truly amazing was its ability to captivate an entire room full of people. Most computer games, even now, are a strictly solitary experience. The last thing you want is a group of people looking over your shoulder, all offering suggestions and vying for the mouse.

Myst changed all that. The first time I played the game, I was hanging out over pizza with some friends, and my pal Josh loaded up his new game while we played a round of cards. Suddenly, the computer started playing that great opening sequence:

"I realized the moment I fell into the fissure that the book would not be destroyed as I had planned. It continued falling into that starry expanse, of which I had only a fleeting glimpse. I have tried to speculate where it might have landed, but I must admit that such conjecture is futile. Still, questions about whose hands might one day hold my Myst book are unsettling to me. I know my apprehensions might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written... "

Within minutes, the card game was completely abandoned, and the five of us were all crowded around Josh's screen, chattering, gasping and throwing out ideas, as if we'd all been transported wholesale into the same surrealistic world.

Myst was released in 1993. It has since sold more than six and a half million copies, three times that of the previous best-seller, and which no other computer game has yet come close to matching.*

* - I spoke too soon, of course. Fellow noder quoi? informs me that, just recently, Sid Meier's instant classic The Sims has surpassed even Myst's sales records. Hrmph.

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