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Page 1:
Myst

Page 2:
Riven: The Sequel to Myst
Myst III: Exile

Page 3:
Myst IV: Revelation
Myst V: End of Ages

Page 4:
Uru

Page 5:
Uru Continued

Page 6:
Precursors
Pyst
Other Adaptations

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Riven: The Sequel to Myst - Windows, Mac OS, Saturn, PlayStation, Pocket PC, iOS (1997)

American Windows Cover

Myst was a runaway hit and sold millions of copies. Since they were now basically drowning in money, Cyan decided that their next project was going to be bigger, better and more expensive - as in multi-million dollar expensive. This was not going to happen with a rag-tag team of seven people, so the Miller brothers hired new 3D artists, bought new computers and upgraded their offices. The development of the game was apparently pretty tense, as it understandably is for a relatively new team thrust into a big-budget project that lasted four years. After the game was finished, Robyn Miller decided to leave Cyan to pursue personal projects, which means that Rand Miller would then become the sole spiritual father of the franchise.

Was all this effort fruitful? Certainly. In 1997, it was something the world had never seen. Riven was the best looking game of its day, and reaches levels of photorealism very praiseworthy even by today's standards. The 2500 images of Myst would become 4000 images on an adventure spanning five islands and an equal number of CDs. The game was once again made out of stills created with HyperCard, but the level of detail increased exponentially and the black borders around the game window are almost gone. The game featured many more videos, fullscreen ones, including mine cart and hover train rides between the game's islands which were eye-poppers for the day. I honestly do not think there is a single better-looking adventure game created in that era.

Riven starts out where Myst ends, Atrus giving you the mission he was alluding to in the previous game: save his wife Catherine from the age of Riven and make sure his father Gehn remains trapped there and unable to cause trouble. Atrus is not on good terms with his dad. Unlike its predecessor, this game has only one main age, the eponymous Riven, which is separated in five islands. The original packaging included a very well done box for the game discs and each CD sleeve has some interesting artwork on it. Some adventure games provide printed documents like journals and codebooks with the CDs to create puzzles before the game has even started (or in fact the game has already begun, before the disc has even started spinning). Riven has a similar, but somewhat subtler approach. Look at the artwork closely, as it contains some veiled hints about the puzzles and the context of the story.

The fact that there are five CDs and five islands is not just a gimmick, as that number is a recurring motif throughout the game. You see, Riven is Gehn's fifth age and his best writing work, which isn't saying much considering the world is falling apart on a structural level (bad grammar, maybe?). That doesn't stop Gehn from obsessing over the number five, which is a magic number in the context of this game. This could make a good drinking game: anytime you see something related to the number five in Riven, have a drink. Speaking of numbers, the mythology of the D'ni is fleshed out much more in this game and one puzzle will require you to learn the basics of the D'ni numerical system.

When it comes to immersion, coherency and overall quality of the world, Riven is really a step above Myst in terms of world building. This seems to show that Cyan's talents have really matured in a few short years. All of the islands are interconnected, and a lot of little things have their story to tell. Subtle signs can be seen of Gehn's despotism and obsession with writing ages, as one island has been razed to produce paper and another has been turned into factory to manufacture the tools needed to further Gehn's ambitions. Most of the vistas show a breathtaking amount of detail. A fishing village filled with round stone huts built on piles. A tiny forest, lighted by paper lanterns, filled with strange flora and golden scarabs, the only area somehow spared from destruction. A lonely bay inhabited by sunbathing aquatic dinosaurs. A gilded temple, filled with food offerings to an animal god. And so on.

The sound quality has been ramped up quite a bit as well. The sound effects are much more natural and sound much less like they were processed through a computer. It's hard to find the exact words to describe the sound work, but it's really top notch stuff. Music is once again quite sparse, leaving place for the gorgeous ambient noise of the wind blowing, insects buzzing and birds singing. As an aside, I find it odd that you can hear chickadees on Riven... it never seemed to me like the kind of bird you'd find in an alien universe, but hey, it's nice to know the little guys are finding their way in the world.

There are still a few inexplicable gizmos just lying around to give your brain some trouble, but that's what puzzle games are for, right? To be fair, the majority of machines have actual in-world uses, most of them being devices employed by Gehn to cement his power. For example: that weird spider-like chair is actually a 3D recorder used to project messages to his amazed followers in his temple. It's interesting to compare what those devices were intended for and what the player does with them, like using an execution device as an impromptu elevator.

Riven is essentially two large puzzles, but they're two devious head-scratchers which will require you to travel to all the islands to discover what they are exactly and piece together the information on how to solve them. The upside of having just two large puzzles is that you can explore most of Riven while thinking about them, since both lock away tiny but crucial areas of the world, instead of being roadblocks that must be solved right now before moving on to the next riddle. Hints to solve both those puzzles are everywhere; it's just that those hints don't always have the decency of telling you what they are. Going back through the game a second time, I was amazed to see just how many hints are thrown at the player that I didn't even realize were supposed to be important.

Obviously, you'll also have to tackle smaller, more mundane challenges, like opening locked doors, extending bridges and fiddling around with machinery. In that vein, the very first obstacle is deceptive: a very flimsy-looking wooden door with a padlock on it, preventing access to a cave. Aren't those annoying? Those stupid doors you could usually break or crawl under only to have to walk all around the world to find a key for them? You could search that key for a long time before simply deciding to just click on the floor and crawl underneath the door.

Each island is contained on one CD and you need to switch discs each time you move on to another, so prepare to see that "insert CD" prompt a lot if you're at a loss as to what to do next. The re-edition contained on one DVD does not have that problem, obviously.

The game has ten endings, but there is a single good one and all the others are bad endings punishing you for doing something stupid (like annoying Gehn into killing you, which is still pretty funny). It seems to me like Riven is a much harder game than Myst, but the difficulty of a puzzle is extremely hard to judge: sometimes you "get it" and sometimes you don't.

D'ni was introduced in this game as a fully fledged language, so the more motivated fans can even translate their writing to get some extra background info. Important journals are thankfully written in English since they are a necessary read if you want to have any hope of finishing the game. If you started playing games to get away from reading, then Riven isn't for you.

Although there's very little human interaction in the game, the few actors help give the universe a lot of credibility. Gehn is fittingly theatrical and falsely civil... and he can also belt out a mean O Sole Mio in a secret easter egg. The actress portraying Catherine is surprisingly pretty, which makes meeting her up close a pretty good reward for freeing her and saving the day, especially after all that wandering alone you've been doing. What can I say? My gratifications can't all be cerebral. You can also catch a glimpse of some of the natives of Riven whom, subtly enough, do not speak D'ni. They speak "Rivenese", which is really a dialect of Papua New Guinea. In fact, the incomprehensible guard you meet at the beginning of the game starts by talking to you in Rivenese, then uses a sentence in D'ni probably taught to him by Gehn to "greet" newcomers. Seeing that this doesn't work, he goes for the more universal approach of robbing you. At least, that's what you can understand by reading an explanation of the conversation on the 'net. This is the kind of details that flew right above my head that I only learned about by visiting the websites of real fans, whose cores are presumably much harder than mine.

There's another situation I'd like to explain. In Gehn's bedroom, you can find a spherical machine with a lever on it. If you activate the lever, you will see a video of a woman saying some gibberish: "Blurga? Scrugla pridla bugga." Boring, right? Well, you have to understand that this woman is in fact Gehn's wife and that the D'ni words she is saying can be translated as something like: "Is this thing on? My dear Gehn, I will love you for all eternity". Considering the woman in the Imager looks thirty-ish and Gehn looks almost seventy, it really makes you wonder: How old is this video? How many times has Gehn watched it during his thirty years of confinement in a lonely world? It almost makes you feel some sympathy for the despot he's become. You can also find his journal on his desk, where most of his writing is steady, self-assured descriptions of his nefarious plans, except for a single entry about his wife. It is extremely pale and shaky, ending in a smudge that suspiciously looks like a single tear. This really blows my mind: it's got to be the most understated tidbit of background information in a video game. How many games require you to have knowledge of an imaginary language to understand all the nuances of its story? And Riven is literally full of little things like these, which almost no one will ever notice. I feel for the Miller brothers since it must be frustrating. Maybe it's a bit like being the curator at the Louvres, who sees a new bunch of slack-jawed yokels walk around his museum every day, "oooing" and "aaahing" at the pretty sights for a while, without ever noticing anything about the deliberate use of colors, contrasts, lines or the different artistic movements and their place in history. Pyst indeed.

"Subtle" is a really good word to describe Riven. I'm amazed by how much more there is to this game than most people give it credit for. Riven has so many details waiting to be discovered that I'm amazed the artsy-fartsy movement hasn't jumped on it and proclaimed it their new god. Maybe they're still busy finding the symbolic meaning behind the presence of pus-filled zombie dogs in Silent Hill or the nihilistic undertones behind colossi murder in Shadow of the Colossus. It's probably for the best. I wouldn't want a thesis on "Ludological Registers - Diegetic Dynamics of Semiotic Signifiers in Riven".

All in all, Riven is amazing both from a technical and artistic perspective; it is also a masterfully created universe in terms of coherency and depth, plus the puzzles should really get your gears turning. It is one of the high points of the adventure genre.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

  • Red Orb Entertainment

Designer:

  • Robyn Miller
  • Richard Vander Wende

Genre:

Themes:


Riven (Windows)

Riven (Windows)

Riven (Windows)

Riven (Windows)

Riven (Windows)

Riven (Windows)

Riven (Windows)

Riven (Windows)


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Additional Screenshots



Myst III: Exile - Windows, Mac OS, Xbox, PlayStation 2 (2003)

American Windows Cover

After finishing Riven, Cyan was too busy chasing the wild dream that was going to be Uru to have time to make the next numbered instalment in the Myst franchise. On the other hand, the fans were clamouring for a sequel, so the job was given to Presto Studios, who were not exactly new to the adventure genre since they had already created the Journeyman Project franchise. The game still doesn't allow free movement, but Myst III does allow you to look around in 360 degrees in each spot. In other words, instead of navigating from photo to photo, you're moving from sphere to sphere.

Myst III tells the story of Saavedro, a native of one of Atrus' ages that was wronged by Atrus' two sons. To get his revenge, Saavedro steals the book of Releeshan, an age meant to be a new peaceful home for the remnants of the D'ni race. You once again play as the nameless character from the first two games and it's up to you to get the book back. Rand Miller reprises his role as Atrus. Sadly, the part of Catherine is played by someone new this time. The role of Saavedro is played by Brad Dourif, who was nominated for an Oscar in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Playing nut jobs seems to be his thing, since that's what he was nominated for in that movie and it's pretty much how he acts here.

As soon as Exile begins... a few things seem out of place. First, while the opening FMV is a very high quality shot of Atrus writing at his desk and brooding about the past, what he is actually looking at while pondering are drawings of his family. Those drawings look awkward and very out of place, especially inside a fullscreen video next to a flesh-and-blood human being. This is strange since there were already photographs in Riven. Furthermore, the video ends in a dramatic crescendo of chanting voices that, while well executed, doesn't fit the mood of Atrus's monologue at all. Jack Wall (who more recently created the soundtrack of Mass Effect 2) was put in charge of Exile's soundtrack and, while he is extremely competent, his style is a big contrast compared to the other games, despite visibly (audibly?) having tried to stick to similar themes. A little bit later, in the first moments of the game, Catherine and her baby Yeesha get stuck in a weird three second loop where she throws her baby in the air again and again, while you can hear distressing gurgles coming from the baby. These may seem like small details, but a few minutes after the game has begun, you can already see that some notes are off-key.

The graphics are neither a step up nor a step down from Riven. While the ability to look in any direction is nice and the game is certainly more colourful, the images seem to have been compressed and look a bit blurry compared to Riven's crisp, almost photorealistic, stills. This is despite the fact that Exile relies on better hardware and uses up more space. Maybe it is a concession related to creating 360 degree stills? Another problem with spherical images is that there is a slight delay when moving from one spot to the other. This can get really aggravating when trying to quickly move between important areas.

You start in J'nanin, a training age built by Atrus to show his unruly sons the Art of writing. J'nanin is a rocky beach and acts as a hub that leads to the three other main ages of the game. Exile is structured much like the first Myst, since you have to solve an easier riddle to gain access to another age where you'll have to face harder brainteasers in a similar vein. Each age has its own type of puzzle and finishing them will give you a symbol needed to access the final area. The extra reward for solving each age is a really cool theme-park ride, much like the transitions between islands in Riven.

Quick Info:

Developer:

  • Presto Studios

Publisher:

Designer:

  • Mary DeMarle
  • Phil Saunders

Genre:

Themes:


Myst III: Exile (Windows)

Myst III: Exile (Windows)

Myst III: Exile (Windows)


The Ages

Voltaic

Voltaic is a barren rocky age and, as the name might suggest, it is an age all about harnessing various types of energy and distributing it in the correct proportions to other machines. You should know the drill: a dam, steam, valves, levers, the works. The puzzles here are fairly traditional Myst fare, so there's not much more to say about them. Finishing it will let you ride a wire-guided airship through a canyon onto a floating island.


Edanna

A verdant world set inside a large bone-like pillar lost in the middle of the sea. A giant bird creature has built her nest at the top of the pillar, right near your link-in point. You will eventually need to save her from a carnivorous plant so she can get back to tending to her babies. This age also features the squee, a squirrel-like creature that emits a call that is the most distinctive sound in Exile, both weird and cute. Certain plants react to that sound by expanding, creating new passages. The little beast is cute enough, but all empathy I had for it disappeared once I saw that they were trying to commercialize his sorry mug by putting it on merchandise. I mean, there's an ad right there on the back of the jewel case, which is bad enough on its own. Edanna involves manipulating machine-like plants to move around. For example, some plants project reflected light and others react by stretching out when illuminated, forming a bridge. A giant jumping leaf is even nice enough to act like an elevator. The jungle looks fabulous, with lots of flowers and mushrooms glowing orange, green and purple. On the flipside, navigating inside tree trunks and narrow passages at weird angles through lots of visual clutter is very confusing. Completing this age will get you a free ride from the giant bird mommy and a toboggan slide.


Amateria

A pagoda-themed age set in a perpetual twilight storm. The oriental theme is a bit too obvious and isn't really part of Cyan's leitmotiv of going for architecture as alien as possible. This totally gives away the fact that Exile was made by a third party, at least to my eyes. But why complain, since it is the most gorgeous of Exile's ages: bathed in purple light, full of glowing green crystals and surrounded by the sound of rolling thunder. Geometric shapes like hexagons and perfect spheres are also a theme here. All of the puzzles involve board game inspired control stations where the goal is to move large spheres across railings without breaking them or dropping them in the water. The highlight involves entering inside one of the spheres and going on a pinball ride through all of the paths you've previously created, which is quite an awesome sight. Amateria is a lot like playing mousetrap.


Completing all three ages will let you enter Narayan, Saavedro's homeland, where your actions will determine the game's finale. There is one last puzzle which will check to see if you've learned your "lessons" from Atrus' training ages. Although the concept of the final puzzle is really good, it requires you to input a lot of codes in a way that is not very clearly explained. This can lead to a lot of trial and error, something I don't like to see near the end of a game. Once again there is a clear good ending and a few bad ones involving you acting like a jerk or ending on the wrong side of Saavedro's sledgehammer. While the ages are very nice and the puzzles mostly satisfying, Exile's puzzles have not been as well integrated as those of Riven. The objects obey their own logic, but other than the fact that the ages are supposed to be puzzle ages to "train" Sirrus and Achenar, there is no deeper in-world purpose to anything found in Exile. The puzzles are just there, waiting to be solved, as some detractors of the Myst franchise would lament. The only bits of extra information to be gleaned come from Saavedro's notebook, murals and his recorded monologues.

Exile ended being the very last game developed by Presto Studios. While the game obtained good reviews and sold more than a million copies, it was deemed to be a commercial failure. It's hard to see what they were expecting, since by 2001 the adventure game genre was already in decline.

Myst III is a good game, but it's hard not to compare it to Riven, which in many ways looked as good if not better, except maybe for the 360 degree thing. Exile is also a much less intricate experience than Riven, where every detail is accounted for. Myst III contains all the ingredients that are typical of the franchise and yet still somehow ends up feeling a little bit unofficial. A competent game, but the subtle touch of Cyan is missing.

Myst III: Exile (Windows)

Myst III: Exile (Windows)


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Additional Screenshots



<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Myst

Page 2:
Riven: The Sequel to Myst
Myst III: Exile

Page 3:
Myst IV: Revelation
Myst V: End of Ages

Page 4:
Uru

Page 5:
Uru Continued

Page 6:
Precursors
Pyst
Other Adaptations

Back to the Index