I became a backer for the Myst 25th Anniversary Collection in May after hearing that Cyan had decided to complete a ‘never-been-done’ before historical anthology of the series. There was no way I was missing out on the Bookmaker tier and getting my hands on physical copies of the titles encased in a Linking Book.
I recently received the keys for the digital downloads so my other-half and I have been working our way through the instalments on Twitch while we wait for the other rewards to arrive. So far we’ve made it to the end of the first three and are now on Myst IV: Revelation – the furthest in the series either of us has ever managed to get. Playing the other titles again has made me remember everything I loved about them, and how the original made me feel when I first came across it as a young teenager all the way back in 1993.
It wasn’t a release I discovered by myself. One day a school-friend asked me if I could come over the following weekend because he’d bought a new video game and was stuck on a puzzle. That’s how I spent the afternoon with him figuring out how to get to the Stoneship Age, looking at constellations in the observatory and correlating them to symbols in the garden, and then observed him as he explored this strange new land. I was so amazed by how good the title looked that I went out the next day to buy it for myself.
I wrote on Monday about my preference for video game beginnings rather than endings, and Myst is one of the releases that influences me in this. I love that feeling you get when you open a new video game and have no idea where this mysterious journey is going to take you, what obstacles you’re going to encounter and who you’re going to meet along the way. That initial hour with a title contains so much wonder and intrigue, because at that point your character and their story can be whatever you want them to be.
Despite being incredibly simple, the beginning of Myst is one of the best I’ve ever played. An old book is witnessed falling through a starry expanse as main NPC Atrus intones: “I realized, the moment I fell into the fissure, that the Book would not be destroyed as I had planned… The question of whose hands might one day hold my Myst Book are unsettling to me. I know my apprehensions might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written.”
The book then lands on the dark floor with a loud thump before control of the cursor is handed over to the player. Being unable to move, the only thing they’re able to do is click on the tome in front of them; and as the pages slowly turn, a moving image showing an unknown yet beautiful world is revealed. Clicking on this linking panel causes that familiar Myst sound to play several times, before the player opens their eyes to find themselves on the island where the series starts.
So why do I think this understated opening is one of the greatest in gaming history? It’s the sense of confusion it inspires in us. What was that book, how did I get here, what do I do now and how the hell do I get back home? These would all be questions you’d ask yourself if you were mysteriously transported to a strange land with no clue of how you arrived or how you were going to leave. But not only that: they’re the same questions you’re now asking as a player, creating a connection between the people on both sides of the screen.
Backing the Kickstarter campaign left me with a spare Myst key as I already had the original title, so when Luke from Hundstrasse happened to mention he’d never played it during last month’s blog party I quickly sent it his way. In his October editorial, he wrote: “It’s actually very interesting although I am finding that the clunky controls used to guide me through that pre-rendered first-person environment meant that I can only play for short periods… and of course I still have no idea what’s going on!”
Ignoring the controls (they are rather clunky due to their age!), this is exactly the reaction I’m talking about. Both the player and protagonist share the same sense of wondrous confusion and this creates the perfect introduction to the world of Myst. As you take your first steps down to the dock, visit the fore-chamber to see the first message from Atrus in the imager, and wind your way through the island and towards the clock tower, you have no idea of the extraordinary journey ahead of you.
It’s one of those releases I wish I could go back and experience from the beginning all over again.