Myst. (Entertainment Choice)(computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Bob Lindstrom
After ten years of struggling as an almost-ran, CD-ROM abruptly became a success. And just as suddenly, CD-ROM games have sprouted everywhere. Unfortunately, this bumper crop of games is a largely unimpressive harvest of shovelware, mainly older titles enhanced with spoken dialogue and familiar game concepts garbed in upto-date graphics.
Standing out from the weeds, however, is a rose: Broderbund's Myst, a true multimedia masterpiece that ingeniously exploits a CD-ROM's hefty 650MB storage capacity. More important, Myst makes you believe its eye-boggling alternate reality. It breathes life into a world of fantastic vistas and fanciful ideas, bringing fresh air and riveting entertainment to computer adventuring.
An ominous, atmospheric introductory sequence launches your visit into Myst. A lone human silhouette plunges through a dark fissure in time and space; a foreboding narrator makes allusions to mystical books and unwritten endings. At the end of the sequence, a single, worn book remains onscreen.
The polished production values of this intro demonstrate that Myst is no ordinary computer game, but the intro doesn't prepare you for the visual feast that follows.
Click on the book, and it opens to reveal a yellowing page with a small full-motion video display. Within the display is a flyby of a breathtaking, 3-D island world with soaring evergreens, majestic marble temples, and a craggy coastline. A click within the video window drops you into Myst's spectacularly visualized world.
As you move through several worlds searching for clues, objects, and experiences to reveal Myst's secrets, you'll piece together a tale of a brilliant but possibly demented inventor, his overly ambitious sons, and a set of magical books that can be gateways to new worlds or oppressive prisons for unlikely souls.
Wandering within Myst, you behold more and more of the rich visuals that designers Robyn and Rand Miller of Cyan meticulously developed in 3-D modeling programs and then exquisitely rendered in striking visual detail. While other games have used this technique to create their virtual-reality worlds, none have lavished such imaginative and tasteful art direction on a game. The lure of seeing all of Myst's stunning locales is a major motivator pulling you through the game.
When you reduce Myst to its component parts, the game is just a latter-day computer adventure game. You puzzle out a story, find objects, and then use them to achieve a final goal. But as with all breakthrough achievements, Myst goes far beyond its roots.
Myst's challenges aren't shoehorned into the landscape. The puzzles, for the most part, are logically and integrally linked to place, time, and story. Instead of confronting you with brainteasers that have no more purpose than extending play time, Myst demands that you have a handson interactive experience manipulating the clocks, valves, machinery, and gadgetry found in the game. To solve Myst, you must become a participant--rather than just a passerby--in this virtual world.
Nor are Myst's graphics mere state-of-the-art decoration. The visual elements, from majestic architecture to evocative paraphernalia, provide insight into the background story, the characters, and the events of Myst. Further, under Robyn Miller's art direction, everything is rendered in elegant detail--whether it's a grandly conceived ceiling fresco of clouds or a subtly sadistic collection of toys.
Robyn also contributed one of the few computergame musical scores that don't make you want to tear out your audio card. A moody mix of New Age atmosphere and old-fashioned movie music, the soundtrack provides a softly persuasive but dramatically supportive undercurrent to the sights and situations in Myst.
Special mention must be made of Chris Brandkamp's impressive sound effects. His contribution adds the last bit of reality to Myst with lapping waves, gentle breezes, chirping birds, and gear-crunching machinery. Note that these are no weak sound-card burbles, but brilliant digital samples with the realer-than-real impact that we normally associate with motion-picture audio. Brandkamp's sounds are as essential to Myst's fantasy as explosions and gunshots are to an Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick. You can't imagine one without the other.
Finally, Myst overcomes the limits of adventure-game interfaces by almost entirely doing away with the interface. In Myst, what you see is what you click. An intelligent cursor changes appearance as you position it over potentially active objects. With no artificial computer layer between you and the game, Myst effectively lures you into its own reality and enhances its hands-on illusion of life.
One handy computer device, however, is Zip mode. After exploring Myst and solving some puzzles, you'll find are-as that you can bypass without compromising gameplay. Activate Zip mode, and Myst turns your cursor into a tiny lightning bolt. Clicking on the bolt immediately transports you to a destination, bypassing the transition screens. As you near the game's end, the ability to rapidly traverse Myst's vast landscape augments your progress as well as your enjoyment.
Myst comes to MPC computers virtually intact from its original Macintosh release. Graphics, sound, and system performance are all on a par with those of the original. However, take the system RAM requirements seriously. Myst needs at least 4MB of RAM; more will accelerate game-play. The game runs quite well on an 80386-33, but I recommend a double-speed CD-ROM drive to shorten the numerous disc accesses.
With its combination of CD-ROM technology, 3-D--rendered graphics, and puzzlesolving challenges, Myst inevitably will be compared with that other groundbreaking CD-ROM game, Trilobyte's Seventh Guest, published by Virgin Software.
On the technology front, Guest can boast full-motion video movement that Myst lacks. As you go from point to point in Trilobyte's game, you smoothly move forward as if you were actually walking through a haunted mansion. Myst, in contrast, contains hundreds of still images with limited full-motion video inserts. Transitions between locations consist of simple dissolves from one still to the next, although you can speed up gameplay by eliminating those somewhat time-consuming transitions.
In Myst, the problem solving is fully a part of the story and surroundings. On this criterion, Myst surpasses Guest, whose puzzles are arbitrarily tacked onto the environment. And the worlds of Myst, in addition to being larger in scope, exceed those of the competition in concept and execution.
Finally, while Guest takes the lead for inventive uses of live-action video, Myst pulls ahead on the music-and-sound front with a sweeping soundtrack that outdoes The Fat Man's routine music for Guest. But we're talking about the difference between great and great here. Both products are cutting-edge achievements.
To add to Myst's riches, the CD-ROM includes a 14-minute digital movie, The Making of Myst. This behind-the-scenes look discusses the people, technology, and effort that were involved in developing Myst.
Myst is a watershed achievement in games that's not likely to be surpassed until the Millers create the inevitable (and highly anticipated) sequel. It ranks with those rare computer games that are equally satisfying as story, as technology showcase, and as interactive entertainment.