Firmament: the sky’s the limit

Back in the early 1990s, a school-friend asked if I’d mind helping him out with a video game as he was having trouble finding the solution to a puzzle. That game turned out to be Myst – one of the best-selling PC releases and a title which has one of the best opening sequences ever.

When Cyan launched their Kickstarter campaign for Obduction in October 2013, I became a backer straight away before even watching their promotional video. And when they then announced the project for the Myst 25th Anniversary Collection in April last year, I did the same because I really wanted to get my hands on a real Linking Book. It’s therefore no surprise then that I became a backer for them once again after receiving an email about their latest campaign earlier this month.

According to the Kickstarter page, Firmament is the ‘next step in the evolution of Cyan‘ and is ‘deeply rooted in the spirit of Myst, Riven and Obduction’. The story begins when the player character wakes up in a glacial cavern, crowded with metal pipes and clockwork gears. Massive doors open to travel a chamber containing an ancient table holding a tea cup on one end and a frozen body slumped over the other, the corpse’s hand holding a strange device.

A message is played as you reach for it. It’s from the woman who left this gift and she explains that she’d planned to mentor you – but, as with all good stories, something has gone terribly wrong. An unexpected and immense voyage now lies ahead and on your journey, you’ll discover deeper secrets. Cyan are calling Firmament an ‘enigmatic narrative adventure’ and say that this entirely new property is the beginning of an exciting universe.

The developer is planning to make this game for both virtual reality (VR) and PC from the ground up, saying that the market for the former is still young and so they want to explore its creative possibilities now. All backers will be able to play the titles on both platforms and effortlessly switch between them to continue their progress, and locations with a steampunk aesthetic which hark back to Myst are going to allow for some amazing visuals.

Unlike those worlds however you won’t be travelling here alone: a helpful clockwork assistant called an adjunct will be there to provide assistance every step of the way. It doesn’t speak but it does understand your hand gestures, so you’ll be able to evolve a vocabulary with your partner through your interactions. What starts as rudimentary communication will transform into a complex actions as you solve challenges together and begin to understand the epic nature of what lies ahead.

Firmament, video game, Kickstarter, Cyan, room, pipes, table, body, corpse, shadows, dust

You may be asking why Cyan needs to return to crowdfunding once again when their previous campaigns were so successful and earned them a bucket load of cash. The leftover funding allowed them to optimise Obduction, design and create a proof-of-concept for Firmament, and enabled them to stay in business for a number of months. As the Kickstarter FAQ page says: “No private island, no Tesla, no huge bonuses, no shopping sprees – but we get to keep working!”

At the time of writing, the campaign has received just over 50% of its £980,924 target from almost 9,000 backers. There’s a way to go before success but still some tine before the deadline of 23:00 BST on 26 April 2019. Head over to the Kickstarter page to find out more, and follow Cyan on Twitter to stay up-to-date on their progress.

Myst: one of the best video game beginnings

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.

Myst, video game, island, trees, water, mountain, rocket, dome

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.

A Myst opportunity

In my post on Tuesday, I included Myst in a list of my favourite classic adventures. After spending an afternoon at a friend’s house while he played and seeing Myst Island with my own eyes, I promptly purchased the title so I could play it for myself.

So many people fell in love with this graphic-adventure when it was released: it was a surprise hit with critics praising its ability to immerse players in its world, and was the best-selling PC game ever until The Sims exceeded its sales in 2002. Its success led to a number of ports, remakes and sequels, along with several novels which filled in the series’ backstory.

It was my fondness for the original which led me to become a backer for Cyan’s 2013 Kickstarter campaign for Obduction. Rather than a direct sequel, it was a title which ‘harkened back to the spirit of earlier games Myst and Riven’ and it did indeed give off the same vibe. Unfortunately though, it just couldn’t reach the dizzy heights of the title that started it all and fans were left wanting more.

I’d therefore imagine I wasn’t the only one who got incredibly excited when the news that the developer starting up a new Kickstarter project landed. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Cyan decided to complete a ‘never-been-done’ before historical anthology of the series; and although the games would be available later, but the ‘special packaging’ would only be available through the campaign and never be sold again.

I therefore headed over to the page as soon as possible and have to confess: I’ve never pledged so much towards a Kickstarter backing before. I’ve gone in at the Bookmaker level so hopefully towards the end of this year I’ll receive digital downloads, as well as physical copies of the titles within a special Linking Book box complete with window and hidden compartment.

To be honest, I would have liked to have gone in at one of the higher levels in order to receive the Linking Book with LCD screen showing the fly-throughs from the games; but sadly, adult responsibilities call and its not a purchase I can justify right now. The Bookmaker tier is available for $99 but watch out for the shipping fee, as backers in the UK can expect to pay an additional $22 for delivery costs.

Myst, video game, island, trees, water, mountain, rocket, dome

It seems as if there are plenty of people willing to part with their money however, as (at the time of writing) the campaign has already reached £1,245,678 from 10,834 backers – surpassing the original £182,710 target in just eight hours. And with 12 days still to go before the funding deadline, there’s the opportunity for others to get on board and push that amount even higher.

If you’re interested in doing so, get yourself over to the Kickstarter campaign before 18:02 on 24 May 2018. Downloads of all seven games (the five Myst games plus Uru: Complete Chronicles and realMyst: Masterpiece Edition) are available for $49 at the Archivist tier. The estimated delivery for the digital titles is August so we haven’t got long to wait: prepare yourselves for a Myst marathon stream at some point this summer.