Nov 20, 2010
Mystery Case Files: Huntsville™

I absolutely blame Myst. I blame it for everything. Everything bad about gaming, every hateful puzzle, every stupid cut-scene, every dreadful piece of writing. I don’t care if any of it is Myst’s fault, I still blame Myst. I blame it for the recession, I blame it for X Factor, I blame it for the war in Iraq.

Released in 1993, it became the non-gamers’ game. “Oh, I don’t really like videogames, but I did like Myst.” It sold more copies than Kinkos - well over six million. Everyone with a PC in the nineties had a copy, you’ll be told. And you know why? Because it was given away with absolutely everything. If you bought a PC, you got given Myst. New printer? Myst. Upgrading your RAM, here, have a copy of Myst. Vast piles of Myst were causing terrible landslides, killing hundreds of children, all around the world.

You had to have Myst. It was the law. Anyone found owning a PC without a copy would be imprisoned, beaten, and left to die. Its hegemony reigned until the turn of the century, six million victims, and never an apology.

Good grief, I hate stinking Myst. And I hate anyone who likes it. I hate you, and your ghastly taste. If this was good enough – if this was what you wanted from gaming – then I hope the litany of miserable clone games that destroyed the joy of adventuring has made you very happy. Every time I receive a game to review that requires me to read its entire plot from a digital pile of horribly written “books”, I turn and look at you with such piteous contempt that your mothers want to disown you.

Seriously, this is the game that made it okay for developers to think, “Nah, screw telling a story, let’s just make the player pick it all up from our handwriting-font-printed virtual novels. It’ll be much easier to excuse a collection of meaningless, unconnected puzzles if there’s a book about flying cats or something. And a diary. No, wait, 18 diaries. 18 diaries filled with pages and pages of our purplest prose, in which one paragraph of information somewhat relates to a puzzle 15 locations away. That’s narrative.”

Here’s a choice moment from one of Myst’s ‘books’: “Climbing the ladder led to their village which is about 10 metres above the water and can only be reached by rope ladders that stretch from the lower paths to the village level approximately half way up the grand trees.”

There should be a Booker Prize for games. Can I read an entire tome like this? (Well, yes I can, as the creators of the game published three novels based on the games. But I have yet to have the pleasure.) And every lazy, rubbish adventure game since has employed the same lazy, rubbish device, and it’s entirely Myst to blame.

Seedy ROM

1993 was a dark year for gaming. Sure, it may have given us Day of the Tentacle, Sim City 2000 and Doom, but it was also the year that saw the CD-ROM become the dominant means for distributing PC games. Clearly something was needed. Games coming on 15 1.44MB floppy discs had become silly, and we required more room.

But it should have been added gradually. Jumping from a maximum of around 20MB to 600 was simply not safe. Developers looked at how much room they now had, and concluded that they had to fill it somehow. With the bulkiest things they could find. Pre-rendered graphics and full-motion video. And guess what encouraged this more than anything else? That’s right: Myst. Along with its cousin 7th Guest, Myst bamboozled everyone’s eyes by creating a world of luscious pre-rendered worlds.

“Look!” people would cry, calling over relatives. “Look at this!” And their relatives would look at the graphics on the desktop PC and their jaws would hang slack. “I... I had no idea! So, go on, move around!”


At the point where gaming had finally advanced enough to allow 3D worlds through which you could move with speed, Myst grabbed that by the throat and throttled it until it squirmed dying on the floor. Once again we were back to clicking on the screen and finding ourselves teleported forward. But unlike the corridors of, say, Dungeon Master, not in an understandable direction, but at whichever angle it saw fit, leaving you disorientated, and unable to usefully turn around to figure out where you were. Will it be a quarter turn, or a full turn?!

Fight the machine

Myst is also the game I hold responsible for f***ing mechanism puzzles. Oh look, here in the middle of this wood is a metal platform with a collection of buttons and switches. I guess if I go back three miles I’ll find a book that alludes to there being something which requires a dial to be rotated 38 degrees to the right, and there was that sign on the wall in that dungeon that had some arrows that vaguely suggested that there might be a switch somewhere that needed to be pushed up and down seven times.

So if I do those, only in the right order, absolutely nothing visible or audible will happen but another utterly disconnected location 15 minutes away will now have a new pixel that I can click on. THANKS MYST.

I mean, sure, adventure games up until that point were asking you to make logical choices, or solve inventory puzzles with lateral thinking, but who needed that? Not when you could have acres and acres of machines and signs and books to twat around with in the name of progress.

And I’m a Mac

Oh, and Myst is responsible for levels of smugness beyond any other, generated by – brrrrrrrrr – Mac gamers in the nineties. Oh, has the universe ever witnessed a more loathsome collection of turtle-necked smug-goblins? “Yes, I play computer games. But I play them on my [imaginary internal fanfare] Mac.” “Oh, so you play Myst and Civilisation then. And NOTHING ELSE.”

Those one-mouse-buttoned buckets of self-importance, explaining to you how their Apple Macintosh is so much better for gaming than your PC, like a group of pompous weeds with dustbin lids for shields going to war with the armies of Sparta, and yet somehow the absolute certainty that they’d already won the battle. And then when trounced - smashed into the ground - looking up through their spindly glasses and saying, “And it’s far better for desktop publishing.”

A time to die

When I’m asked what I’d do if given a time machine, I don’t say, “Go to the dawn of the millennium to meet Christ,” or, “Travel forward to next week and get the lottery numbers!” I say, “I would travel back to 1992, to Cyan’s Washington studio, and I would smash everything to smithereens, then get the developers, stick them in the time machine, and send them four hundred million years into the past. And then I’d stay in that time and ensure that no one else attempt to revive the project. Anything, anything at all, to stop Myst.


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