Presently, I have forty-one games in my Steam library (small, compared to many gamers) of which I’ve only played about half to completion or an end-game state. I tend not to be the type of gamer who rushes out and gets the newest release; my library is composed mainly of games I became fond of by watching other people play (with the intent to one day play them myself), as well as games I played in years past on much older operating systems that have since been digitized and rereleased.
Recently I got an itch to revisit a game series that, next to the first-gen Nintendo, is probably primarily responsible for getting me into gaming in the first place: Myst.
Myst came out for Mac OS in 1993. I was twelve and didn’t have a computer at the time, but a few years later I started babysitting a couple of boys up the street whose mother was in graphic design and had a monstrous-sized Mac. The boys and I would play Myst on it together.
I was hooked. This game captured my interest like nothing else I’d experienced until then. As soon as I got my first PC (a Tandy!), Myst was a game I absolutely had to have. The original version was a point-and-click slideshow puzzle adventure with a few bits of Quicktime video slotted in. The version I bought came with an official Myst journal for the player to use. I still have this journal with all my penciled-in notes, sketches, and questions. It still has lots of blank pages in it for future adventures.
Later on, Rand and Robyn Miller, the original developers, also released some novels, and I had to have those too. And then the soundtrack. And then the sequel, and the soundtrack to that. And so on.
In 2000, realMyst: Interactive 3D Edition came out, and somewhere along the way I picked it up on Steam. It’s spiffier than the original in that the entire game has been redone to render in real-time and with 360° free movement. It has some new surprises tucked into it, but the textures are looking a bit dated by today’s standards. (There is a masterpiece edition of realMyst out that uses modern textures that I will purchase in the future.)
Regardless, for me, Myst has lost none of its charm. Over the last week I took my time revisiting this world and put just over eight hours of gametime into realMyst. I plan to progress through the rest of the series. Here is my adventure.
Fair warning: if you’ve never played Myst, there are spoilers ahead!
I’m plopped down onto the dock on the east side of Myst Island. Overhead, seagulls wheel and cry out, but otherwise it’s just me, the dock, and a ship with the ocean slapping against it. The stairs in the distance, leading to a hill with what looks like a big cogwheel sticking partially out of it, are an invitation to start exploring.
The island is the first puzzle: a cursory inspection reveals that nothing seems to be entirely right. The ship at the dock is sunken; the cogwheel hill has a platform that looks like a door but has no obvious means of opening it; there′s a tower that appears inaccessible; the library is full of burned books but otherwise looks pristine; and so on. It′s obvious that only by poking around and being completely nosy will anything begin to reveal itself.
That′s the thing about Myst: it′s essential to have to want to dig into things to learn more. Mom always said, “Don′t touch!” and “Mind your own business!” but on Myst Island, everything demands to be poked, prodded, twisted, turned, jiggled… If it looks like a button, push it! Then push it again when it doesn′t do anything. Then stare at it for a while and try to fathom what it might be for. Take nothing for granted; inspect everything. If it can be interacted with in some way but doesn’t seem to do anything right now, then it′s meant to something later. Bring curiosity, keen observation, and patience to figure out what. Be prepared to go ransacking through, well, everything. Anything written down is probably meaningful, and if I don’t figure it out, I’ll be marooned, alone, on this island forever.
By reading the remaining journals in the library and picking up some other information hidden on Myst, I learn that the main feature of this world are the Ages, which were literally written in books by a man named Atrus. He suspects one of his two sons, Sirrus or Achenar, may be responsible for the destruction of the library. There’s also a message for his wife, Catherine, that she was supposed to erase after viewing. Since it’s still there for me to find, I can only conclude she never returned to Myst to see it.
By delving into the island’s puzzles, the first Age I’m able to unlock is Stoneship. Of all the Myst Ages, this one is probably my favorite. A thunderstorm rages overhead and the sea is angry. A large rock protrudes from the water and blended with it is a ship similar in design to the one at the dock on Myst Island. There’s a lighthouse too, and a wooden walkway that curls around the rock to a lookout with a small spotting scope at the summit.
Stoneship paints a darker picture than what the weather presents: having read Atrus’s remaining journals, I’m expecting to find people here, but there’s no one. The door to the lighthouse is broken and passages into lower levels of the ship and even the central rock are flooded. And then, by working through some of the puzzles, eventually I find my way into those lower passages to find two rooms…
The first bedroom is impressive in its luxury. Treed murals line the walls and a rich carpet adorns the floor. It’s meticulously neat. The globes in the corners on either side of the bed reveal strange geography when touched. I can investigate the contents of the chest of drawers and find some interesting items. The mood of this room suggests something of the character of its owner. I find myself impressed.
Then I find the second bedroom.
This one is starkly different and right away I’m a bit unsettled. The room is plain and the bed looks neglected and dingy. What captures my attention most is the lamp on the opposite wall: upon closer inspection it appears to be made from…someone’s ribcage and spinal column. There’s also an ornament of some kind on a small table that, when manipulated, changes its display from a perfect red rose to a skull. I spend only as much time here as is needed to find what I need.
After another puzzle I can access the lower level of the ship. It’s pretty down here and finally I discover I’m not alone: the stormy ocean is home to creatures like lionfish, jellyfish, and others. For a while I simply stand and watch, but eventually it’s time to leave. The linking book to Myst is here.
After returning to Myst Island, I’m prompted to continue my search by Sirrus and Achenar, Atrus’s sons who are each trapped in a book in the library. Each book has had pages removed from it and each brother implores me to find the missing pages so they can get out. Someone went through a lot of trouble to trap them in these books and spread the pages across the Ages I am slowly gaining access to. Their messages are incomplete, but even so I start to get an understanding of each man from their mannerisms: Sirrus is smooth and confident, but also arrogant. In contrast, Achenar seems…unhinged, even crazy. Now it seems obvious to whom the bedrooms in Stoneship belong. Regardless, I have no choice but to continue exploring.
After some more investigation, I unlock the Mechanical Age next. Like Stoneship, this Age is little more than a few rocks in the midst of a vast ocean, though the weather here is calm and the sky clear. When I arrive it’s a little past sunset and the stars are just starting to emerge overhead.
I can walk freely into the fortress—no puzzles, no barriers. The corridor branches left and right and again I find two rooms. But these are not bedrooms… They seem to contain thrones. The one I attribute to Sirrus continues to impress: it’s rich and full of treasures, including items which seem to represent each of the Ages I can travel to.
Achenar’s throne room is…disturbing.
Implements of confinement and torture are left in plain sight. The box on the bench is interesting…rather than a colorful Jack to pop out, cranking its handle reveals a mechanical black cobra that strikes.
But that curtain… It’s obvious there is no window behind it. I stare at it for a long while, wondering what it might conceal. Then I decide…I don’t want to know.
I locate the red page I need, then solve the puzzle to reveal the Myst linking book.
The best part of Channelwood is when I get to leave.
Don’t get me wrong: Channelwood is pretty. It’s full of trees and lofty walkways as well as a lonely windmill looking out into the fog. I want to enjoy being here.
What drives me to distraction in this Age are the sounds. At ground level my ears are assaulted by a chorus of frogs backed by water rushing through pipes. The boardwalks running between the trees are a simple maze that I find myself hurrying through to discover a way to distance myself from the frogs, but they are everywhere.
Finally, I find a way to get to the bridges strung between the trees overhead. The ribbiting of the frogs falls away…only to be replaced by relentless creaking of tree branches. Up here is another maze and many of the treehouses look identical. I can tell something has happened here though: there are upended chairs, splintered tables, broken clay jugs. Like the others, this Age is deserted too.
I find another elevator and figure out how to power it to get me to another level where I find yet another room that reeks of a mind which delights in inflicting fear and pain on others. A pedestal in the corner displays recordings of Achenar speaking in an unfamiliar language, along with a message from Sirrus. This confirms my earlier suspicions that Achenar is unhinged while Sirrus thinks quite highly of himself.
I grab the first page I can find and depart, not bothering to seek out the other one.
After Stoneship, Selenitic is my next favorite Age. Like the other Ages, this one is also something of an island surrounded by water. The sky is obscured by fog and visibility is limited to a few dozen feet. The puzzles here are engaging: I find stations all over the place and each one seems to be monitoring a different source of sound: the rumbling of lava from below, a burbling stream, wind through crystals, and so on. But to what end?
I discover a ladder to climb down. It leads to a tunnel and when I flip on the light, I’m surprised by a colony of bats. The squeaks of their echolocation cover my embarrassingly girly shriek.
Emerging from the tunnel at the other end brings me to a tall tower with what seems to have small receiving dishes attached to it. Here is where I find the tools to solve the first puzzle of the island. I make notes and then descend back into the tunnel to return to the mainland.
When I emerge again, the sun has set and night is rapidly closing in. Selenitic goes through a rainbow of change, eventually settling into a bloody red hue that leaves me wondering if this is a harbinger of things to come.
Having solved the first riddle, I can now unlock a door that leads me into the subterranean depths of this Age. Here I find a small craft on rails. In it, like a mechanical rat, I must find my way through a maze of sometimes twisting and undulating tracks using only a compass as a guide. At its end is the Myst linking book.
By now I have collected all but one of the pages that has Sirrus trapped in the red book. I have not brought the pages back with me for Achenar’s blue book, as what I saw of him in Stoneship, Channelwood, and the Mechanical Age has already convinced me that he should not be released from his prison even if he might not be responsible for the burning of the journals in the Myst library.
Sirrus? I’m not entirely sure. Unlike his brother, nothing I saw suggested any desire to harm whatever people may have existed in the Ages I visited. But his arrogant, self-indulgent attitude could be harmful in other ways. He’s obviously greedy and sees himself as superior. Perhaps he viewed the Ages as little more than a means for personal profit. That kind of approach can be just as harmful as torture.
I add the second-last page to the red book and open it. The viewport into his prison is clearer now, though the background is still filled with static, and I find myself wondering why he hasn’t starved to death. I can’t see any furniture behind him, not even a floor. It’s as if Sirrus is literally trapped in nothing. Then I wonder if this environment is what actually drove Achenar mad.
At length, Sirrus tells me about his father, the Ages, and—so he says—what has truly happened on Myst Island. He blames his brother for the destruction of the books in the library and says Atrus is the one who trapped him and his brother in the red and blue books. He asks me, one last time, to find the remaining page needed to restore the red book to functionality, and even tells me where to look for it. He says he will reward me for helping him escape.
And then he says, “Where the red and blue pages reside, also resides a green book. If you touch the green book you also will be imprisoned forever.”
Oh really? I close the red book and follow Sirrus’s instructions up to locating the final red page and the green book. But no harm ever came from opening a book, so I pick up the green book and look inside. Another face stares out at me, and when he speaks, I recognize his voice from the hidden message I found shortly after arriving on the island. This is Atrus, father to Sirrus and Achenar.
He speaks to me for a bit, telling me his story and pleading with me to believe him, but warns me not to join him unless I have a specific page with me. It’s been torn from the Myst linking book he took with him, meaning he is trapped on that side of the green book. He’s calm and sincere, though resigned and regretful about what his sons forced him to do.
I close the book and go searching for the white page. There were clues about this in the other Ages and it doesn’t take me long to find it. When I return, I link to D’ni.
The room is in ruins. There were mentions of D’ni in one of the remaining journals in the library, and perhaps I begin to understand why the Myst Island Ages had so many underground areas. Despite the rubble surrounding him, Atrus seems at home here. He is concentrating so hard on his writing that he doesn’t notice me at first.
I give him the missing page. He adds it back to his linking book and sits in quiet contemplation for a moment, weighing a heavy decision. Then he disappears into the book, leaving me behind. I wait patiently. Moments later Atrus returns and says gravely, “It is done.” He tells me his wife is being held hostage in a place called Riven and asks me to help him in the future if I can. Until then, I am free to continue exploring Myst and its Ages.
I link back to Myst with a cold feeling in my stomach. Atrus has obviously done something and while it was not easy for him, he also doesn’t appear particularly upset by it either. The linking book takes me back to the library…and I can see the red and blue books have been completely destroyed. Not just burned; the places where each one sat now only bear a scorch mark.
If the books are obliterated, do the Ages on the other side cease to exist? Are Sirrus and Achenar dead? I don’t know. Maybe the Ages continue on but any hope of return is forever lost, unless someone writes another book that would link to those exact Ages in exactly the right way. But how would anyone know to do it? And surely Atrus’s sons will soon starve or die of dehydration.
A very grim and severe sentence for a father to levy against his children.
On the floor in the library I find one of Atrus’s journals. I have read this one before, but pick it up again and page through it. I’m not sure why it’s here, rather than on the shelf where I left it; it looks as if it was dropped by mistake.
It’s about Rime, an Age I haven’t been to before. At the very end of the journal I see some new notations written on older drawings, and after studying this for a moment, I realize what to do. A short while later I return to the library to find it changed.
Rime is not what I expected. I link into a frozen world with snow falling gently from the night sky. Ahead is a hut and a large outdoor furnace. Behind me is the sea, almost as flat as a mirror. In it are tall metal towers with lights blazing from them. I wonder how they could have been constructed by Atrus and his sons.
It’s pretty here, and oh so quiet. I go into the hut to find a cold furnace, a Myst linking book, and a frozen door. I had to work hard to find the Myst linking book in the other Ages, to the point that finding one left sitting out in the open here feels wrong, as if inviting disaster.
After some investigation I get the furnace working. The room warms up and the ice thaws. The door leads into the mountain, to an elevator that takes me up to a second hut at the summit. I find myself standing at a simple control panel facing two of the towers out in the sea.
Playing with the switches has spectacular results.
This isn’t all the summit hut has to offer. I discover another room with a journal in it, and in turn this journal leads me to yet another room with a crystal viewer. There’s a note on the desk, but the handwriting isn’t male. Catherine has been here. The note gives a hint on how to use the viewer, and suddenly I find myself looking into another Age that I can’t reach. Perhaps this is Riven, where Atrus said Catherine is now held hostage.
I’m certain that one day soon I will find out.