Myst: 20 years of point-and-click adventuring
The genre-defining game that made us all buy CD-ROM drives
You're on your own now
Worse, Myst dropped the player right into the mystery, with no scene-setting at the start to help them get a handle on what it was all about. No, you were simply dropped on the game's island hub and left to get on with it. With a little perseverance, the early clues get you into play, but uniquely there's no call to action, no request for help. Your motivation to work out what's going on and how to resolve it is entirely your own.
Rocket ship for sale, one careful owner
Maybe that's why the game proved so popular: you made yourself get involved. It's easy to talk about the immersive nature of the game's presentation, but at the core of Myst's appeal is that lack of information and the way it hooks the player in.
It helped too that Myst was reviewed far more widely than other games, its reach extending beyond the gaming and computer press into mainstream media. This was a game for non-gamers: there are no enemies, no risk of instantaneous death, no intensity.
Still, many gamers found Myst's approach too slow, and its puzzles too opaque. I'm not sure I would have persevered had I not been tasked with writing a walkthrough for a computer magazine and thus availed myself of the game's solution. Fortunately, older and more patient now than I was then, I can still try to work it all out on my own. Myst's huge popularity saw it ported to numerous platforms, most recently iOS. It's in the App Store for £2.99. So too is an iPad-centric version of realMyst, the real-time rendered version of game originally released for PCs in November 2000.
The boiler needs gas and a match to light it. The match is in the safe, natch. But where's the combination code?
By then, Myst had already been "remastered", in May 2000's Masterpiece Edition, which featured the original's graphics re-rendered in 24-bit colour. In the meantime, Cyan had come up with a sequels: 1997's Riven. It was followed in 2001 by a second installment, Exile, for which realMyst and the Masterpiece Edition had been released to pave its way. A fourth installment, Revelation, arrived in 2004, by which time the series had sold in excess of 12 million copies, half of them the original game in its various forms. End of Ages completed the series in 2005.
Playing Myst again, I'm struck by how rich the game is. And it manages to be both easy and hard at the same time. It's simple because there's not a lot too it. Each Age, for instance, essentially presents two puzzles: the first to work out how the world operates, the second, having achieved the first, gets you the code you need to access the book that will return you to Myst island. Straightforward, yes? Well no, because achieving both requires a high degree of lateral thinking or, to be honest, plenty of inspiration. Clues are opaque. A couple of times, I found myself resorting to the internet and, when learning the answer, accepting there was no way I would have thought of the solution.
Will you aid the guy trapped in the blue book, or the chap imprisoned in the red book?
A case in point: the Selenitic Age, reached by activating the rocket on Myst island. It's not hard to work out you need to turn on the various microphones dotted around the island, or that tuning the receiver into each might be useful. But having done so, it's not at all obvious that it's the order of the five sounds it plays when you push the button marked Sigma that matters. Or perhaps, successful adventure gaming of this kind requires a certain kind of brain, the way cryptic crosswords do.
Contrast that with the Channelwood Age, where the solution is entirely logical: lift mechanisms powered by the flow of water need to have water routed through the Age's network of pipes in order to work. Just don't forget to visit the windmill-powered pump and turn the valve so water flows. Here you can figure out what needs to be done be examining cause and effect; solving other Ages involves no deduction, just guesswork.
And of course the wee iPhone screen, even though it has a higher resolution than the 640 x 480 Myst originally required, still doesn't do the graphics justice. Manipulating small objects can be tricky too. That said, it was a lot of fun revisiting Myst after 20 years. It's just as atmospheric – and as frustrating – as it ever was. The graphics still look good, though of course two decades of free exploration in 3D shooters makes Myst's on-the-rails movement feel old hat. There's always realMyst if you're in the mood for rubbernecking.
But puzzle solving is timeless, and so is adventure gaming, though it has fallen out of favour somewhat in the era of high-def, high-octane consoles we're living in. It's nice to know that for all the games out there that mandate fast reactions and a lightning trigger finger, there are still some that require you to pause for thought. ®
Developer Cyan - now Cyan Worlds
Platforms Mac OS then almost all the rest
Sponsored: DevOps and continuous delivery