Myst (1995, Cyan and Sunsoft for Sega Saturn)

If memory serves, I received a copy of Myst for a freelance writing assignment for a videogame magazine that only lasted a couple issues. I was curious about this computer game, which had become a mainstream sensation on the Macintosh but was met with open skepticism by the console gaming crowd. This wouldn’t have been my first choice for a Sega Saturn game to play, but since the software library in 1995 was so painfully thin, I picked up a notebook and pencil and slowly began to make myself through this fascinating and strange world.

Myst was, and remains, a very interesting experience. You navigate through a series of pre-rendered environments by clicking a mouse icon, moving forward or changing direction, opening doors or pressing buttons. It’s a bit like walking through a series of surrealist postcards that either slide or dissolve away. The worlds are almost entirely unpopulated, aside from the occasional bird in the sky or moving mechanism, and one has the sense of visiting a world that was lived in but suddenly abandoned. Something has happened to the people who once lived here. But what?

Your first puzzle challenge is a simple one, to count the number of switch stations on Myst Island and then enter them into a machine located in an underground chamber nearby the docks. A video recording of a man appears who looks and sounds very much like Orson Welles, speaking to his wife about sabotage of books in his library. He suspects one of his sons of the deed, and warns his wife to find the other books in “places of protection,” then leaves.

Exploring the surface, you discover a library where many books are available. Many have been burned beyond recognition, several others are available that will teach you about the history of this island and multiple other worlds. On two shelves, you will find a unique books that, when opened, features only a screen of static. A single page lies nearby, and when added to the book, fuses together. The static is now replaced with a scattered images of a man trapped inside, trying to communicate. A second book features another mysterious page and a second imprisoned man; these are the sons mentioned earlier.

These books are actually portals to other worlds, ones that were written into existence by the original author. You discover that you must travel into these worlds to locate more lost pages. With each page restored to the library books, the brothers tell their tale of imprisonment and betrayal. Each one accuses the other and implores your help, although neither appears fully trustworthy. Something is very wrong here. At the final climax, you will find yourself with a final page and a final dilemma: what became of the father, and which of these brothers should you release from their book?

Myst became a blockbuster success that captured the public’s imagination in a way very few video and computer games have done. Its impact and influence spawned a new genre of interactive fiction, the next step in the evolutionary line dating back to Infocom text adventures and Lucasarts click-and-point adventures. Its worlds have an eerie beauty to them, familiar yet slightly alien and sprinkled with surrealist moments. A book morphs out of a wooden table. A pathway of clockwork gears grows out of a green sea. A tree becomes an elevator that towers high in the sky. A portrait on a wall twists and turns, revealing a hidden staircase. Strange creatures fly through the air in the distance. These worlds are rendered in that mid-1990s computer graphics style that is more geometric than realistic, and this adds to their alien nature. The incidental music is sparse but highly effective and accentuate the mood perfectly; Minecraft obviously took a lot of inspiration in this realm from the Miller Brothers.

The puzzles may appear overly cryptic and incomprehensible at first, and it requires time to explore the worlds and understand the internal logic at play. Reading the books in the library is an absolute must, and you will need a notebook and pencil to write down all the clues. Patience and curiosity will be rewarded, and once you have discovered the first “linking book” to another world, everything will click into place. The puzzles have a perfectly clean and clear logic, which is the key to their understanding. Far too many adventure games would create obscure puzzles that never made any sense. Myst makes sense. You can unravel the mysteries using nothing more than your common sense and skills of perception.

Myst rarely appears on any Sega Saturn “greatest hits” list, but it remains an essential experience for all and comes with my highest recommendation.

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