When I met Rand Miller for a Skype interview last Wednesday, the game developer was already in the midst of releasing a new Myst title. But even as Cyan Worlds is busy making the latest remaster of the legendary computer game, he still has an internal debate about what to do next.
In Myst, the computer was a virtual island that players had to explore and discover for themselves. Desktops functioned as digitized rooms that were completely isolated from the outside world, and gamers were encouraged to explore them by completing puzzles or solving mysteries that would take them on a journey to other worlds in a series of Ages. This approach to gaming, which influenced the design of many other adventure-style games and is still a cherished model today, came to prominence in 1993 when Myst launched.
As a result of this design philosophy, the first Myst game was a commercial success: it sold millions of copies and helped propel the Macintosh computer to become one of the most popular personal computers. Its popularity also inspired a host of follow-up titles.
The premise was simple: players would help an explorer called Atrus travel to other Ages and write a linking book, which served as the link between each of these worlds. The resulting games were graphically impressive, and offered nonlinear storytelling and complex puzzles.
Myst was a commercial and critical success, spawning five sequels and becoming the best-selling PC game until 2002, when The Sims overtook it as the top-selling game of all time. It was also ported to consoles, including the Sega Saturn and Atari Jaguar.
It was also a technological breakthrough: its story was told through the use of hypertext, which involved gluing together pictures generated by StrataVision and QuickTime video systems on HyperCard, a software stack that ran on Macintosh computers. It was also a first for the genre, as it incorporated an evocative visual style and a non-linear story with mystery elements that could be solved in many different ways.
Those two factors were crucial in determining Myst’s success. As a result, it was often seen as an artistic manifesto by some who argued that it should be the game form of the future. But the brothers who developed the game did not intend to change the nature of adventure-games or the way gamers played them.
Instead, the myst developers were simply trying to create a unique game experience. They were not aiming to revolutionize the genre or to re-invent it, but rather to produce an aesthetically pleasing and compelling product that would appeal to an audience looking for something new in a medium that had been dominated by games of violence and bloodshed.
Myst was designed around constraints: it had to fit on the HyperCard software stack that was limited by the small memory footprint of consoles and by the slow speed of CD-ROM drives. It also lacked the complexity of the systems used in more realistic adventure-style games, like those by Scott Adams and other text-based puzzle creators. the myst