The classic Myst is one of my favourite adventures. I remember playing it for the first time back in the early 1990s after being introduced to it by a friend at school and knowing immediately that it was something completely different to all other games, and therefore very special.
The opening to the title is one of the best created, despite its simplicity. I love the sense of confusion it inspires: what is this falling book, how did I get here, what do I do now and how to 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 how you arrived there or how you were going to leave. And they’re the same questions you’re now asking yourself as a player, creating a connection between the people on both sides of the screen.
When the Kickstarter campaign for the Myst 25th Anniversary Collection was announced in April 2018, I became a backer so I could get my hands on physical copies of each game in the series along with my very own linking book. It was also though this project that I learned about Mysterium. This yearly event has been running for 20 years now and features a weekend of talks by those involved in making the games, presentations hosted by fans, artwork submissions and other activities.
I’ve never been able to attend myself as it takes place in cities across America but, with COVID-19 making travel and large gatherings too dangerous for the past few months, the Mysterium Planning Committee decided to move it online for 2020. Although back in June I felt drained by the numerous digital expos taking place this summer, I can’t deny that one benefit of this shift is being able to participate in events located further afield that I may not otherwise have had the chance to go to.
There were two sessions scheduled for last weekend that I was particularly interested in: A Chat with the Miller Brothers along with Ages Before Myst, a presentation about earlier multimedia CD-ROM games which laid the groundwork for the Myst series. Time differences between the US and UK meant I was unable to watch these sessions live or attend the Zoom social discussions, but the videos made for good viewing the following morning while in my pyjamas with a cup of tea.
The first talk featured co-designers Rand and Robyn Miller in a rare appearance together and it was wonderful to hear how they viewed elements of the Myst titles differently. For example, when asked what they’d consider doing differently if they were starting afresh now, Robyn Miller said he thought that the minecart section in the original game was a cool concept but needed to be scraped or made to work better. Rand on the other hand said that he loved how this puzzle was based on ‘messing with sounds’ and drew on concepts featured in earlier challenges.
My only issue with this session was that I would have liked to have heard more about the brother’s thoughts and less about the Kickstarter campaign for The Myst Documentary. Director Philip Shane said he would only mention the project once but it was continuously brought up throughout the talk and he spoke over the Millers on several occasions. Perhaps I can understand his concern though: at the time of writing, the campaign only has three days left and still over £24,000 to raise so there’s a possibility it won’t be successful.
The next talk was held by Phil Salvador, author of the blog The Obscuritory, and Ages Before Myst took viewers on a journey through some of the releases that came before along with those which were influenced by it afterwards. Did you know that 1987’s Inigo Gets Out, a black-and-white game made using HyperCard about a little cat’s adventures, inspired the Millers to start looking at video game development and led them to create The Manhole in the following year?
Salvador also mentioned The Labyrinth of Time, a title released in the same year as Myst and created in the same spirit; and Lighthouse: The Dark Being, produced by Sierra Online after CEO Ken Williams showed his team a copy of Myst and asked if they could make it. Despite my love for the adventure genre, these are both games I’ve never played or had heard of before the talk; but I’ll be downloading them from GOG.com very soon and giving them a try.
As an extra, I also decided to check out the Fan Art session recording and find out how the speakers ‘create within someone else’s universe’. Particularly impressive were the Catherine cosplay photographs from ‘Moiety’ Jean Fioca, who likes to ‘make things that reward you for looking closer and closer at them’. Concept artist Claire ‘Shoom’lah’ Hummel also showed off some of the t-shirt designs she has created for Mysterium along with her character concepts for Obduction, which were lovely to see.
I might not have been able to go to America this year but at least I got to attend the event online and see what the Mysterium experience is all about. It’s amazing to think that even after 25 years since the original Myst release, there are hundreds of fans the world over who are still celebrating the title, their memories of it and what it means to them. I’d recommend giving at least the first game a go if you’ve never tried it – it’s highly likely you’ll notice elements that inspired future games even outside of the adventure genre.
Did you manage to catch any of the Mysterium talks this weekend? If so, what were your highlights?