Return to the MYSTsterious island – part one

Myst

This weekend sees the release of MYST, a from-the-ground-up remake of the original, iconic game released for early PC and Mac on September 24, 1993. As a die-hard fan of not only Myst – but the arguably superior Riven, along with its many sequels and thrilling tie-in novelizations – I am only too happy to have an excuse to talk about this extraordinary game on this week’s blog. After all, this is the phenomenon that quite literally started it all for me. In this two-parter, I will be revisiting and discussing the original game, followed by my review of the recent release next time around.

1993. A time before Windows 95, the modern-day iMac, and the later operating systems we all know. A time when the PlayStation had just only just been announced; a time before Tomb Raider, FIFA, Warcraft, online gaming, and 3D graphics to dazzle the eye. This was the golden era of 16-bit consoles, with titles such as Super Mario, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat providing an action-oriented thrill.

Not as clumsy or random as an action title. Elegant games, for a more… civilized age.

Then along came Myst. For myself, I did not stumble on the game until around 1995/96, when my dad finally relented to buy our first ever home computer. I had hoped for a Windows, dreaming of playing space-flight games such as Fury III, with a classic Sidewinder joystick. What we got was a grey box called a ‘Macintosh’, which whirred and groaned into slow action on a daily basis, like an old man trying to climb out of bed. Little did I realise how fortunate this turn of events had been – the Macintosh had been purchased second-hand, complete with a wallet full of CD-ROMs. Most of these were dull pieces of software… but there were also some games. Among these were strangely charming titles such as ‘Inbred with Rednex,’ where you escape from a canyon town by completing puzzles for members of the pseudo-cowboy band Rednex (yes, really), along with similar point-and-click learning adventures, such as Dorling Kindersley’s ‘Leonardo the Inventor’, ‘Ancient Lands’ and ‘Castle Explorer’.

Nestled somewhere in the middle of the wallet, was a visually striking blue CD titled: ‘Myst – the surrealistic adventure that will become your world’, with an illustration of a man falling through the sky towards an island. When I booted up the game, I had the unique experience of knowing nothing about the game or its story, having not even received the original box or jewel case. This was also a time before we even had dial-up internet in our home, while smartphones were a dream of the future. Upon my first arrival on Myst island, I was alone, with no method of solving the mysteries that lay ahead except for the limited intelligence of my six-year-old mind. I also had to rely on an old-school pencil and notepad, as I regularly jotted down notes and theories, my imagination running wild.

I will never forget the first time I heard the haunting music in the introductory video, followed by the narration of the man falling through the sky, leaving me even more confused as to what was going on. Then, in the darkness, a book appears. The pages are blank, save for a single panel, showing a visual fly-by of the island while the evocative main theme plays in a sombre, synth-like symphony.

The rest, as they say, is history. Myst masterfully places you alone on the shores of a dock, with no further instructions. You are tasked with exploring the empty buildings and interacting with hidden devices, complex contraptions, crumbling documents, and half-burned books to reveal your next steps. Throughout the game, the increasing sense of loneliness and unease pervades, as you explore silent, ruined worlds. It may seem ridiculous, but at the age of six, I often expected someone to run out from behind a tree or leap from a shadowy corridor to attack me. The spooky ambience of the ages of Myst is one of the strongest early memories of gaming that I have.

My room if I won the lottery…

A first-time player in the modern age will find little which they have not experienced before from walking simulator/indie/puzzle games. Myst, however, is the Citizen Kane of this genre; a classic title which introduced many familiar styles and tropes before everything that came after it. Viewed through the lens of today, the original version of the game appears dated (hence the number of re-releases over the years). It was essentially built as a slideshow of high-quality images, cleverly compressed to a much lower quality while retaining their color and visual appeal. Added to this were moving elements utilizing QuickTime video, such as birds in the sky, along with one of the game’s most intelligent inclusions – characters portrayed by real actors, seamlessly imposed over the digital environments.

Throughout production, the Rand brothers (co-founders of Cyan and creators of Myst) faced many challenges, such as slow CD ROM drives and computer memory, along with other technical limitations of the time. Despite this, they managed to produce a final product which pushed forward the potential of gaming, as well as popularizing the fledgling CD ROM drive system. I would strongly recommend that you take the time to watch ‘The Making of Myst’, a short video included on the original game CD, in which the brothers talk about the production in detail. It is fascinating to see how ground-breaking this all was at the time.

The enduring legacy of Myst cannot be denied. Nevertheless, it is impossible to provide an honest review score from a modern-day perspective, especially for a game that often struggles to run on modern gaming platforms. For anyone interested in experiencing the original game, I would suggest nothing better than watching Dilandau3000’s excellent ‘Let’s Play’ video on YouTube. His narration is perfect, taking time to explain the logic behind solving each puzzle, punctuated with interesting facts and thoroughly researched backstory throughout.

Anyone who knows me is aware that this is probably my favorite game of all time. Therefore, I hope you will forgive me the indulgence, as I travel back in time and ask my six-year-old self to provide a final score, through the nostalgic lens of the early 90’s…

10/10

Final Score

Published by Prog.Gaming

Author of Progressive Gaming blog

5 thoughts on “Return to the MYSTsterious island – part one

  1. I’m not certain I’ll ever feel ‘transported’ by a video game in quite the same way.

    Myst was such a profound experience. The music, the art, the imagination, the pacing and suspense of the story… When you compare it to other games of the era, there isn’t even a resemblance.

    Even now when Art games are fairly common, I still think this would make an impact.

    Can’t wait to hear what you think of the remake.

    Liked by 2 people

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