Mysty-eyed at the prospect of an iconic game being rebooted, 25 years later
What I loved about ‘Myst’ was the aesthetics of the island, the minimalism, the unique design
The setting was surreal. I was on an island like no other. There were no sandy beaches; only sheer cliffs and rocks along the endless coast. All I could hear was the sound of breaking waves and the flutter of birds beyond some pine trees. In the distance, I could see a lighthouse and the mast of a sunken ship. Somehow I had this feeling that there was no one else on the island.
There was a path that led to a structure with a dome roof. As I walked towards it, I saw a piece of paper lying on the ground. It was a handwritten note for “Catherine” from someone called Atrus: “I’ve left you a message of utmost importance in the forechamber beside the dock. Enter the number of Marker Switches on this island into the imager to retrieve the message.”
And so I started exploring the mysterious island called Myst, a captivating video game I got sucked into briefly some 25 years ago.
In 1995 or thereabouts, on a trip to London, I walked into the Virgin Megastore (yes, in those pre-World Wide Web days, CDs, records and games were sold only in stores) to buy some music CDs and video games that my son had asked for. On the list was this game called Myst.
Back home, one evening I heard nice soft music coming from my son’s room. He was playing Myst and the music was from the soundtrack of the game. And I sat down with him as he navigated his way through the island. The graphics simply blew my mind.
I am not into video games. I would occasionally sit with my son and watch him play if the game appeared interesting. But even he said he had never seen anything like Myst.
There’s no action in the game, no other person except you, the Stranger, who has landed on the island and stumbled upon the intriguing message on a slip of paper. Somewhere on the island a crime has been committed. You don’t know the nature of the crime, or who committed it. There were no instructions; you had to press knobs and levers in a certain order to see which door it opened and where it led. Each door opened into a different “Age”. But it was not simple guesswork; you had to use your brains, you had to think.
What I loved about Myst was the aesthetics of the island, the minimalism, the unique design of each Age, the imaginary worlds, and the soundtrack that I still have on my Mac. You explored the island alone, and at your pace. It was spellbinding. This is perhaps the only game I ever tried to play.
Designed by two brothers, Robyn and Rand Miller, Myst was cutting edge, “the biggest selling PC game of all time in a decade”. The Wired magazine said: “The reason for all the success was stunning in its simplicity: Myst was good. Myst was better than anything anyone had ever seen. Myst was beautiful, complicated, emotional, dark, intelligent, absorbing.”
Four years later came the sequel Riven. I sat down with my son again to find out if it was as good as Myst. The story began where Myst left off, and the plot was more complex: Catherine of Myst had been held captive on a prison island, and you, the Stranger/player, had to find her. The graphics were even more amazing, and the music as haunting. There were aerial trams that looked like roller-coasters. It was fantasy at a totally different level.
There were more sequels: Exile and Revelation, realMyst (a 3D remake), End Of Ages and Uru. We bought them all, and still have those CD-ROMs. In those days, you had to have a CD drive to play these games.
It has been 25 years since Myst first hit the market. Over the years, it has sold several million copies. Earlier this year, Cyan, the developer of the series, launched a Kickstarter campaign—and far exceeded the target—to fund a 25th anniversary collection of all Myst titles. The games will be updated to run on Windows 10 and will be available as a digital download and as DVDs.
But I’m not a serious gamer; I was more in awe of its design, graphics and music. I would start over, use a walk-through to explore, and give up. I just liked to drift and explore the island, I liked the innovative machines that you could access only after cracking a few puzzles.
I may not have the skills to solve the mystery, but, for me, it was a fascinating trip. And who knows, it could be yours too.
Shekhar Bhatia is a science buff and a geek at heart.