Adventure Gamers Awards
Note: This review is based on the original version of realMyst. An enhanced Masterpiece Edition has since been released and reviewed separately.
There are roughly two types of adventure gamers: those who like Myst and those who loathe it. Myst was the first legitimate breakout success of the computer game era, becoming a mainstream institution despite the widespread criticism that it was little more than a marginally-interactive slideshow. By the end of its run (“end” being a somewhat loose term, as it continues to be ported to every gaming platform in existence), it had been both heralded as champion of the CD-ROM format and eventually bemoaned as sounder of the death knell of adventure games. As with anything commercially successful, it naturally gave birth to a glut of me-too adventures of mostly dubious quality, and whatever mainstream accessibility or charms it possessed were never inherited by any of its bastard offspring.
Personally, I never understood the popular appeal, and of the six-million copies sold, I always assumed that five were bought based on simple zeitgeist-inspired curiosity and/or given to kids by their parents or grandparents who heard something about it on Good Morning, America, who then spent a half-hour or so puttering around Myst island proper, said something along the lines of “is that it?” or “what am I supposed to do now?” and moved on to something else. But even though the mainstream has since moved on, the legacy of Myst has left a much more profound impact on the evolution of adventure games, having given birth to the “first-person explorer” style of adventures, which is often a rather polarizing experience for most gamers.
So far as I can remember, I first came across Myst in a magazine advertisement (back in the days when things of that nature were primarily conveyed through printed media). I don’t recall much about the ad, other than it had some very pretty pictures of rocks and trees and maybe a lighthouse, and vaguely promised something or other about exploration or a journey or an experience or something like that. I was intrigued, if for no other reason than it looked unlike any other game I had seen and conveyed an intangible sense of wonderment, which – having lived a relatively sheltered existence to that point – was a relatively low bar.
At any rate, I bought the game without knowing anything more about it. I wasn’t even completely certain that it was an adventure game, as it never explicitly stated as much. Of course, at the time, computer games were basically either adventures or RPGs and it certainly didn’t look like an RPG and it came on CD-ROM, which was the sole province of adventure games (and “multimedia” encyclopedias), so I considered it a reasonably safe bet.
It didn’t disappoint, in that it was certainly like nothing I had played before. Probably like a great many people who played it, I was a bit put off at first, if for no other reason than I was somewhat offended that it steadfastly refused to tell me what the hell I was supposed to do (and it didn’t appear to have an inventory, which was pure blasphemy). I was quite used to my adventures at least telling me what manner of looming menace I was supposed to save the kingdom, earth, universe, etc. from and setting me about my business. Instead, all I got was some meaningless drivel and a book falling through space before being dropped on an island and left to my own devices. After about a half-hour or so puttering around Myst island proper, saying something along the lines of “is that it?” and “what am I supposed to do now?”, I moved on to something else.
Fortunately, I’m not quite so easily discouraged (or at least I wasn’t, at the time), and I eventually came back to have another go at it. Except this time I actually bothered to read the journals and study the machines on the island, and once I let go of my adventure game prejudices and embraced the idea that the actual point of the game was to sort out what to do and piece together the story, I was quite hooked. Of course, if I were to describe that very same premise today, it would sound like a total cliché, but as with most clichés, the very first time someone did it, it was actually a hell of a thing.
The story was fantastical, yet relatively simple and relatable (part of the charm that was lost in the sequels), which made it compelling and probably contributed to its mainstream success. More importantly, the puzzles were (mostly) based on some type of real-world or intuitive logic and their mechanical underpinnings and the way I interacted with them (pushing a button or physically pulling a lever) made them feel accessible, so I felt I could eventually “solve” them by simply thinking about them rationally as opposed to resorting to the traditional last-resort “try everything on everything” tactic.Continued on the next page...