Myst IV: Revelations
Myst was a unique gaming experience when it first appeared in 1993. It defied every preconception of video gaming: it was slow, thoughtful and beautiful. Now, 11 years on, Myst IV Revelation is being released. It matches the original for fascinating game play, but also uses new techniques to make this the most detailed and complex Myst ever.
If you aren’t already familiar with Myst, it’s an adventure puzzle that often feels more like a good book than a computer game. It is entirely family-friendly, but is aimed at adults. There’s no violence or dying to worry about, just beautifully constructed and rendered worlds with clever puzzles.
There have been three previous episodes of Myst, plus a dreadful remake of the original in 3D. The games have all used a technology similar to QuickTime VR to navigate the worlds, with the exception of the 3D remake. The main problem with the remake wasn’t that the game was bad, but the ability to rush around the scenery made the pace all wrong. In its original form the game gently dissolved from one scene to another, and this pleasing detail is retained in the latest version.
It’s difficult to describe just how immersive the Myst world is. Every detail is rendered with such care that it looks almost real; though the fantastic landscapes are very surreal. Much of the atmosphere comes from the audio. Following in the tradition of the original Myst, Revelations uses music and sound effects to give the game character. Peter Gabriel has contributed a track, and the Slovak Radio Orchestra played much of the original music composed by Jack Wall. The sounds of the wind blowing through the trees, or the trickle of water really add to the experience.
The original Myst also used video clips of real people to add to the story. With modern technology there are now more live-action sequences, but they’re now perfectly blended into the environment rather than just movies in a window. It’s done in such a way as to not seem unusual; it all just fits together.
One problem I had with the original Myst was that it often got so difficult that I was stuck on a particular problem for days. In 1993 the Internet was in it infancy, and getting hints for Myst was one of the first practical uses I found for it. I could have been inventing Google or Amazon, but no – it was Myst tips for me. As I have Myst IV before its official release, I am similarly stuck for hints – though I’m finding that I don’t need them so far. The makers of the game spent a lot of time testing the puzzles on people, making sure they weren’t too hard or too easy.
Myst is best played at a stately pace; it can’t be rushed. The puzzles are complex enough to challenge, but not so fiddly that they’ll hold up your progress for long. Only extensive testing on real humans will let the game designers know what’s too hard or too easy – which is why designing the game took around 75 people a massive three years. When you spend that long building worlds and puzzles the results should take a while to figure out. I have no idea how far into the game I am, but I’ve been playing for around 30 hours altogether. It seems like I’ve only scratched the surface, but already I’m getting ready for it to be over. Finishing a game like Myst is always a bit of a let-down because it such fun to play you don’t want it to end.
If you’re concerned that you missed the first three episodes of Myst and won’t be able to catch up, don’t be. I’ve played all three and the stories are so mysterious it’s hard to figure out what’s going on anyway. The general story revolves around a man and his relationship with his two sons. The surreal fantasy sees the father creating worlds and his sons mysteriously plotting and scheming on them. Frankly it doesn’t make much sense, unless perhaps you’ve read the Myst books (there are three), but that doesn’t seem to matter. The characters tend to exist in the periphery of the game, leaving you to explore the deserted worlds with just echoes of what has happened there.
Two brothers, Robyn and Rand Miller created the original Myst, and it was primarily designed for themselves. They didn’t expect to sell many, mainly because they thought only people like them would like it. What actually happened was that everybody liked it, as far as I can tell it is most popular with people that don’t like video games at all. They sold 12 million copies of the original Myst, more than TombRaider and Doom combined, and this one is even better. This game has appeal for old and young, male and female. While it might not be good for the itchy-twitchy shoot ’em up fan, it may be good therapy.