The book lands before you in the starry darkness, hitting with a brief flare of soft, jagged blue, followed by a glow that highlights it against the black. You take it, and find the weathered grey-brown cover faintly titled: “Myst”. You open it, and find on one page what might seem at first to be a photograph. This image, however, is moving. The image begins depicting a view showing only ocean. It swoops over the water, up and around to look down from high above at an island: a place of great trees and strange constructions, and, on the near side, a pier. It is to this dock that the image dips, and, just above, rests, looking down the wooden platform from eye level. You touch the image, and a strange sound surrounds you. The page is gone, but not the image – for you now stand on the pier that you saw in the book, at the edge of the island that it just revealed to you. From this pier your journey begins. Along the way you will discover other books. Some books are gateways to other worlds, yet you will always find yourself returning to this island at which the path began – the island called Myst...
As you wander Myst Island you will find that it holds a number of unusual structures and contrivances: an elevator cut into a giant tree, a tower that can be rotated to look out over certain important points on the island, and a planetarium that allows one to view parts of the night sky, to name a few. Perhaps most important, however, is the library. Most of the books there have been all but destroyed. However, a few remain. Some tell parts of the experiences of Atrus, the man behind the books that provide entry to these strange worlds (called “ages”), and his sons, Sirrus and Achenar. The books offer hints about “the Art”, which allows Atrus to introduce things into an age by writing it into that age’s book. And yet he is an explorer in these worlds himself, not knowing what to expect, even less how an age might develop after his first encounter with it.
Two books are different, however. On either side of the library is a stand. Each holds a book, one red and one blue. Like the book that brought you to Myst, each book contains a window to some other place. All that these windows reveal at first, however, is static and noise, similar to an un-tuned television. But beside each book is a page colored to match that book. Placing that page in its corresponding book will improve matters a little. The faces of two men will come through amidst the chaos, introduce themselves as Sirrus and Achenar, and ask of you a task: retrieve more pages like the ones that you found beside their own books.
The more pages you bring to the brothers, the clearer their respective images will become, and the more they will reveal to you. Of perhaps greatest importance, each urges you to free him, but not his brother, mentioning the excesses or deviations of the other and the fate of their father at that brother’s hand.
To find these pages you will travel to four ages whose book-doorways are to be found scattered about Myst. However, while the library is readily found, discovering these “linking books” is less easily done. A linking book is revealed once a set of puzzles has been solved. The puzzles in some way relate to the world which is contained in the book.
Exploration of the four main ages outside of Myst itself – and especially those areas of each age in which the brothers made their homes – should turn up the missing pages to the brothers’ books. It can also provide clues to the natures of Sirrus and Achenar, and perhaps inform the choice to come. Which brother is telling the truth? Which can be trusted?
Once a book has been fitted with each of the relevantly-colored pages taken from the scattered ages, the brother in that particular book will reveal the location of the final page to his book – and that of his brother. Upon reaching that place, you will be faced with a final choice. What have you learned on your travels? What course will you take? Choose wisely...
The journey of Myst is in some ways a lonely one. Most of the ages to be visited seem to be entirely unpopulated; the people mentioned in the journals are seemingly gone. At most some creature, either small or distant, is briefly seen, and seems to not touch your journey or tasks in any noticeable way. The brothers are the primary revelators of the story, whether by their own testimony or that of their writings and effects which can be found in the places that they occupied during those ages.
Myst is, ultimately, a story of characters, more than events. The discoveries made through the worlds of Myst describe the brothers and, to some extent, their father. Eventually, the final puzzle is one of trust and a test of how well the player has connected all the pieces of information. While the story and the characters are fairly simple, they are, I would say, nevertheless well-wrought and well integrated into the player’s journey.
One negative point that I found in the story presented in Myst comes at its finale. While it is appropriate, it perhaps lacks drama, and there are questions left unanswered. In addition, the final reward given to the player’s character, although highly desirable, can feel a little disappointing to the player. This produces, to me at least, a conclusion that feels unsatisfying.
While the characters define the story, they are not the basis of the gameplay. Instead this is a game of puzzles. The linking books to the four main ages are each effectively “locked” away. Accessing each requires solving a puzzle before the book will be revealed, and these puzzles themselves require some task to be completed before the “lock” can be opened. In one case, for instance, the puzzle that reveals the book’s location calls on information found elsewhere, and that, together with yet more information discovered in another location, is used to determine the appropriate combination for the book-revelatory puzzle. In each case the puzzles used to open the way to the linking books are in some way appropriate to the theme of that book’s destination, or to the destination itself.
The ages themselves present further puzzles to be solved. In each case the exit is blocked somehow; a locked door in one, elevators lacking power in another, flooded passages and no light in a third and a locked staircase in a fourth. In order to leave the age, and, in some cases, in order to fully explore the age’s offerings, the player is tasked with discovering the workings of the machines contained in each age. With that knowledge, they can unlock them. None of the ages have a great many tasks to be completed, but each has something to offer, visually and in terms of mental challenge. They are all different as well. For example, the tasks might involve directing flow, targeting specific places, recognizing sounds, or finding a way to get a short chain to reach a distant object. As with the age of Myst itself, completing the tasks may furthermore call on information from elsewhere: a combination or code may be given somewhere else in the age (or even, potentially, another age), and acquiring that may in itself require the solution to some other puzzle.
Almost all of Myst’s puzzles are logic puzzles. In fact, the player has no conventional inventory, and there are very few cases in which an object is taken to be used elsewhere (the case of the brothers’ book pages being such an exception). In the case of those pages, the player is allowed to carry only one at a time. Taking another page returns the one already held to its former position.
While the puzzles are not very many, I at least would call them interesting. They are most often some type of locking mechanism, but they differ enough in form, distribution through the age and manner of solution from their peers that they should hold the interest of those inclined to such puzzles for the duration of the game.
There are, however, a few problems. Perhaps most annoying is that certain objects (specifically certain switches) are placed in dark areas, and do not stand out well from the shadows around them. Thus, in playing there were a few times in which I found myself stuck. I was not sure how to activate a machine when the problem lay in my simply not seeing a switch or button that lay in shadows.
Myst also has one maze puzzle. This, at least, is mitigated by the fact that an observant player might notice the clues available to determine the way out, and it is cleverly implemented. On the other hand, should one want to retrieve both pages from the age in question, there is no apparent way to skip the maze on the second journey through.
Perhaps worse for some might be the sound puzzles. There are a few places in which sounds, either in terms of notes or distinct noises, are the key elements of a puzzle. Those who have trouble distinguishing sounds might find these puzzles frustrating.
The game’s sound, overall, is good, if not always wonderful. Sound effects are generally appropriate to their function, although a few sounded a little generic. I found some to become a little annoying if heard too often.
Music is not omnipresent. In many cases its place is taken by environmental sound, such as a hollow wind or gently lapping water. When music is used it often has a technological feel (consistent with the devices encountered about Myst and the ages) and is generally in keeping with the setting and mood. Both music and ambient sound manage to convey a sense of loneliness very appropriate to the player’s position in the game and the worlds in which he finds himself – not to mention the positions of the other characters encountered.
Better than the music and sound, I would say, are the visuals. Each location in Myst is represented by static 3D-rendered images, viewed from (presumably) the protagonist’s eyes. Moving to a new area or looking in a new direction presents a new image, in the now-classic “slide-show” fashion. There are no animations between perspectives. The image simply changes from one to another with an optional transition between images. Although, on my computer it was too fast to be of much use; it seemed to be some sort of dissolve effect.
On first reading this may seem to be an awkward or unpleasantly disjointed system, with images simply replacing each other. I found it to work well as it increased the ease of getting turned around which was helpful as you could not always see the destination very well when its access lay away from the center of the image, and there was no animation to show the path that the character took.
The graphics themselves, while outdated now, were undoubtedly good for their time, and continue to look good, if not always convincing. Machines and books, appropriately enough, seem to be especially well-represented – including some lovely illustrations in the books found in the library – while trees (or at least their foliage) look less convincing to the eye.
Unfortunately the backdrops are also largely unmoving, without very many animated sections, at least of any size. The ocean, for instance, has a rippled surface but does not move, which at least in part reduces the effectiveness of its representation. On the more positive side, this does help to increase the lonely atmosphere of the game, if only by default.
Myst is controlled quite simply and entirely by the mouse (aside from such things as entering names for saved games.) The main cursor is a hand, pointing upwards. While movement has no special cursor, turns to the left or right, and to look down are represented respectively by hands pointing to the left, right and down. They appear when the cursor is moved to the appropriate part of the screen. Looking up is again represented by the hand pointing upwards.
Movement is effected simply by clicking on the portion of the image that lies in the direction in which one wants to go. So, if you wanted to go towards a certain building, a click on that building should take you towards it (presuming that an open path lies in roughly that direction). Very often a click somewhere near the center of the screen will take you somewhere, unless there are no ways forward ahead of you. However, you will not necessarily be going in a straight line, so clicking rapidly through screens might get one a little turned around!
It is perhaps worth noting that the game does not indicate whether an object or area is operable or not, with the exception of a few cases in which the player drags the mouse to achieve the desired effect. In these exceptions, the cursor changes to become an open hand, and changes again to a closed hand when the mouse button is clicked and held. This indicates that the object may then be “dragged” (or moved) within its limits and released when the mouse button is released.
There are a few cases in which other cursors become available. For instance, the cursor changes when a page is picked up to represent a hand holding a page of the appropriate color. One or two other actions have their own cursors.
Overall, I would say that the system used in Myst is an efficient, elegant and intuitive one. An additional cursor to distinguish looking up from normal actions might have been an improvement, but this is a minor quibble.
It is perhaps worth noting that I found no circumstance in Myst where one could not proceed due to having missed something previously, or otherwise painted oneself into a corner. And, there does not seem to be any way in which to die in the game. Thus, this is one game for which the maxim of “save often” is not important, unless of course one is worried about software crashes or hardware failure.
As one final positive, the game comes with a potentially useful built-in hint system. On request it will offer either specific or general help, based on the player’s location and tasks yet to be completed. It also often provides more than one level of hint, from slightly cryptic advice to specific instructions, hopefully allowing the player to get a hint without a spoiler. It provides more direct aid should the player want it.
As one final negative, Myst is not a terribly long game, time spent thinking about puzzle solutions aside.
In the end I would call Myst a good game. It has since been surpassed amongst its kind, I would say, but remains a strong and interesting play with a decent (if not long or overly complex) character-based story, interesting puzzles and an efficiently minimal interface.
The graphics are good, in some places very good, while music and sound does the job, if seldom little more.
Of course, this is not a game for those with a strong preference for either inventory puzzles or long dialogs – Myst has neither an inventory system (as has been mentioned) nor a dialog tree system – when one of the few characters speaks you more or less have the choice of listening or leaving.