I recently 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. The first game in this series is called Myst. The sequel is called Riven.
Riven was released simultaneously for PC and Mac in 1997, and I must have picked it up right away. It starts off more or less right after Myst ends and is quite a bit longer and more involved compared to the first game. I have memories of playing it while still in high school. A friend played it at the same time and I remember talking with her over the phone about the puzzles we were both stuck on. Sometimes we would play together via phone and talk our way through what we saw.
Now I have Riven on Steam, and it’s time to walk the paths of the Fifth Age once more. Unlike realMyst, Riven has not (yet?) been updated for more modern machines and play; it’s still the point-and-click slideshow (with occasional Quicktime movies) puzzle adventure it originally was. A fan project called The Starry Expanse is working on updating the game with Cyan’s support, and I hope to see that succeed.
Fair warning: if you’ve never played Riven, there are spoilers ahead!
Having exhausted all avenues of exploration in the Ages that can be reached from Myst Island, I return to D’ni to visit Atrus. He still appears to be hard at work on the book he’s writing, but when I link into the room with him he looks up and says, “Thank God you’ve returned.” The level of relief in his voice is surprising. I haven’t been gone that long, but perhaps to him it seems that way. This underground, ruined room seems to have no windows and no clocks. How does one’s perception of time change in a place like this?
Atrus gives me no opportunity to tell him about what I have seen in the other Ages, not even in Rime. He goes on to request my help and gives me his latest journal. Compared to our last meeting, Atrus’s whole demeanor now seems rushed, almost panicked, and I wonder what has happened. Then he tells me he’s sending me to Riven without a linking book. That means I’ll be stuck there with no way to get back.
Instead of the linking book, Atrus gives me what he calls a prison book. It appears to link to D’ni and I’m to use it to trap his father, Gehn. He doesn’t tell me why I should do this, but apparently the contents of Atrus’s journal will help fill in the blanks. Atrus also asks me to find his wife, Catherine, whom I remember is being held hostage in Riven. Perhaps Gehn is her captor.
He writes in the book on his desk for a moment longer, then turns the large tome toward me. The gateway image is full of noise and interference; I can’t make out anything of the Age I’m about to travel to. Briefly I think I see a face looking out at me but can’t be sure. As I disappear into the book, Atrus says, “There’s also a chance, if this all goes well, that I might be able to get you back to the place that you came from.”
I arrive in Riven and immediately find myself trapped—literally—inside a cage. The bars spring up just as the world has solidified around me. There are no obvious locks, latches, or keyholes, so I can do nothing but stand and think to myself that this quest is off to a fabulous start. Outside I hear the ocean. Across from me but out of reach is a lever and a bit further on I see a large shiny conical contraption, but I don’t know what it might be.
Suddenly I hear footsteps! Someone is coming. A moment later a man in what looks like some kind of uniform steps into view. It doesn’t take him long to notice me in the cage. He speaks but I don’t understand the language. He doesn’t seem to know it very well either, as it appears he’s reciting from memory. Then he shrugs and gives up, coming closer to me. He seems friendly, holding up his hands in gestures possibly meant to placate me.
I can tell he wants something. He’s making motions of exchange: I give him something and he gives me something back. The next thing I know, he’s stuck his arm through the bars and has nicked Atrus’s prison book right out of my hands! I want it back but the man has stepped out of reach. I watch him open it and he seems delighted when he sees the gateway image inside. But then there’s an audible thwack. He drops the book, then collapses to the ground.
Another set of footsteps. The man’s body is dragged out of sight.
Another figure appears, dressed in black and red. The face is covered by a scarf and large goggles. This person picks up the prison book, then throws the lever. As the cage bars slowly retract I see my rescuer hammer something into the base of the lever before fleeing. By the time I can step out of my cage, I’m alone again. I could chase after my rescuer but I have no idea where to look, and it might not be a good idea to rush through Riven since there are obviously other people here, unlike the Ages I visited from Myst Island.
I decide to remain concealed inside the cage for the moment so I can read the journal Atrus gave me. The very first entry tells me why Atrus has been working so hard on that book: after thirty years, Riven is beginning to fall apart again. Apparently this problem is a recurring theme with books written by his father, which Atrus has been trying fix so he can go rescue Catherine and evacuate the other inhabitants.
The journal outlines why Gehn is a threat. I also learn that Riven is Gehn’s “Fifth Age” and that the linking book I originally used to get to Myst is the one Atrus threw into something he calls the Star Fissure thirty-three years ago in the hope the linking book would be destroyed. A smile lights up my face when I reach the entry describing my arrival on Myst and Atrus’s further musings about how I may be able to assist him.
The rest of the journal outlines Atrus’s plan in reasonable detail. I close the book, feeling a little better equipped to tackle the challenges before me: find Catherine; get the prison book back so I can trap Gehn; signal Atrus to bring the linking book so we can all escape.
I step out of the cage and take my first real look around Riven. In the distance I see other islands and what looks like a kind of maglev tram system running to at least one of them. At the edge of the cliff I look down and see the body of the man who first took my prison book. Is he dead? I’m not sure. Behind me is the odd conical contraption. There’s a viewport but nothing is visible when I look into it. On the ground is a metal trapdoor with a series of buttons. I push some of them but nothing happens. A lever attached to a railing turns but doesn’t do anything either.
I decide to leave this thing alone for now and go back past the cage and its lever. My rescuer has jammed what looks like an ornate stone dagger into the lever’s base. Looking behind me, I notice a very large stone carving towering over the cage that has the same shape. The dagger is firmly wedged in; the lever doesn’t budge, so I know if anyone follows me to Riven there is no chance they’ll be trapped.
Ahead of me is a set of stone steps leading up to a bridge. At the landing I notice there’s a room to my left that has been cut out of the rock. A button at the doorway seems to make the room rotate.
The room’s interior is ornate: the floor is adorned with an intricate star pattern while the ceiling is blue and sprinkled with stars. A gate bars a second way out.
Five columns decorate the gate room and on each is a golden beetle.
By pulling on the circle, each beetle opens, revealing a viewport. I look into each one in turn and find a story unfolding before me:
I decide the figure in each image must be Gehn. The story feels eerily familiar, and not just because the third image seems to depict Atrus falling into a field of stars with a book. In these images I see echoes of the greed and lust for power that gripped Atrus’s sons in the Myst Ages. What is wrong with this family? Was Atrus spared this flaw, or is it within him as well, lurking beneath the surface?
So… Based on what I see, the story seems to be that Gehn wrote the Age, came to be revered as a ruler or even a god by the people of this Age, then brought destruction, chaos, and conflict when his son left, and then… The fourth image seems to show Gehn overseeing the Rivenese building something that has to do with plans or pages falling from a tree like leaves. The fifth image shows tree stumps, some kind of machine eating trees, and the Rivenese worshiping a book in Gehn’s hand that is being pushed toward a pit of fire.
In his journal, Atrus mentioned that one goal of trapping Gehn in Riven was to deprive him of the D’ni resources that would allow him to write more books. I get the impression from these images that Gehn didn’t let that stop him from trying anyway.
The gate blocking the second exit doesn’t seem to have any way to open it right now, so I leave the room and continue down the path to the left, around the outskirts of the hill. It leads to a dead end, though there’s another door here. It’s chained and padlocked, so I turn away.
Just as I’m about to go back up the stairs to the landing, I stop. The view from here seems familiar. Where have I seen a mountain and a bridge like this before? Then it comes to me: this is very close to what I saw of Riven through the crystal viewer in Rime not that long ago. I turn around and look to see if I can spot where the viewer’s angle came from. Perhaps it was closer to the shore, or even from a vantage point on a small island a little ways out in the water. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be anything for me to do here right now, so I ascend the stairs and cross the bridge.
At the other end of the bridge I look back, noticing for the first time the great golden dome. Based on its position, the blocked door in the gate room probably leads there. I’ll have to come back later to see if I can figure out how to open it.
The bridge takes me into a passage leading into the mountain. I walk down gently sloping steps and find a door which opens at my touch. Inside the room is a chair contained within a wire globe, which raises up as I approach. On the wall seem to be two viewers: one shows a room cast in an orange glow, and when I flip the switch beside the viewer I can see a door in that room slowly opens. The other viewer shows a kind of platform—perhaps a location where I can access the maglev system?
I go back out into the passage and continue downward, emerging into the orangeish room I saw from the viewer.
Before me is another wire globe in front of a spectacular piece of stained glass which is lit from behind. Standing here, I’m nearly in awe. The mood in this room is hushed, almost reverent. Then I notice the statues of strange creatures to either side of the globe.
What are these things? The scales seem to suggest a kind of sea creature with tusks. It looks a bit fierce. Bowls of fruit and vegetables have been left by each statue.
Then I understand. This is Gehn’s temple. The Rivenese probably come here to worship and make offerings while he sits in the chair in the other room, watching through the viewer. Does the wire globe project his image to them while he’s there? I recall the projection of Achenar I saw in Channelwood. Like grandfather, like grandson?
Outside the temple I come to the platform I saw from the second viewer in the chair room. There’s nothing here other than a glowing blue switch. I push it. At first, nothing seems to happen. Then, in the distance, I see something whisk toward me on the rails, and a moment later a fish-shaped tram car arrives. I get into it and throw the navigation levers inside. The car rotates in place and then whizzes away along the track, swinging this way and that until it comes to rest across the water at another platform.
Wherever I’ve landed now, I’m not here long. The platform opens into a shaded cove. I find an odd-looking wooden eyeball embedded into the rock face, and it rotates to show me a symbol when I touch it. The only other way to go is up a set of stairs on the left that lead into the mountain. I emerge onto another stone pathway. I can hear birds, and above me to my right I see trees. I opt to go that way. The way is steep, but as I emerge at the top of the path I find myself looking at one of the scenes from the gate room: all around me are tree stumps.
Somewhere overhead a hawk cries out, hoping to startle prey. It’s hot up here and I can hear insects buzzing about in the ruined forest. The path ahead splits so I take the right-hand fork and find someone’s axe still embedded in a large stump. These are the trees Gehn had cut down, probably to make paper so he could try writing his way out of this Age.
The path ends at a hole in the ground, and below I can see something that looks like a mine cart. I jump down into it and before thinking it through, flip the lever I see. This sends the cart careening down a set of tracks—and me along with it! Almost right away the tracks angle sharply down and I’m certain I’m going to be killed, as the cart hurtles along at breakneck speed. Then, in the distance, I see fire.
At least, I think it’s fire. In the time it takes to blink I’ve passed through the glowing ring, and then another, and then another, and dozens more, but I’m not burning.
The cart zips along through the rings, and suddenly it seems like I’m underwater. Panic grips me: surely now I’m going to drown. There’s no way the cart can keep following these tracks through the ocean. Any moment now I’m certain water will rush in and crush me under its weight. But nothing happens. Finally I let out the breath I’ve been holding. I’m not wet; I’m not drowning. The glowing rings seem to create a tunnel through the water, and the next thing I know, the cart’s momentum is taking me upward into the sunshine before coming to a stop at the end of the line.
There’s a moment of silence before I’m unceremoniously dumped through the bottom of the cart onto a slide that empties into…a wood chipper.
Thankfully, the wood chipper isn’t turned on when I land in it. I get up and dust myself off, then have a look around.
Book Assembly Island
The first thing I see is a very green lake ahead of me, and a high, ridged cliff all around. To my right is a big boiler and I recognize it from one of the images in the gate room. This must be where Gehn pulped the wood to make paper for the books he has been trying to write. I wonder if he was successful and isn’t in Riven any longer for me to capture.
I wander out onto a wooden path that leads into the middle of the lake. There’s a switch here that seems to send water through different pipes depending on where the switch points. I point it at the wood chipper and return to find I can now turn the mechanism on though it has no wood to chip. Then I return to the center of the lake and point the switch at the next pipeline. Back at shore, it seems the boiler is now boiling. Playing around with some more knobs and switches drains the boiler and turns off its heat. There’s a door on the side of the boiler so I go in.
It’s hot and steamy in here, but seems safe. Below me there’s a pipe with a ladder leading into it and after a bit more fiddling I figure out how to get down to it. The pipe is large enough to crawl through. Outside, there didn’t seem to be anywhere else to go, so I bite my lip and go in.
It’s really dark in here. Pitch black even. I feel my way forward and try not to think about what I might actually be touching. I also try not to think about what might happen to me if someone else comes along behind me and turns the boiler back on. Thankfully, soon enough I’m climbing up and then out of the pipe. I have to jump down to a ledge and then follow a path up and around to find I’m now standing along the top ridge of the cliff.
The path leads me down to a balcony with a set of doors leading into the cliff. The doors aren’t locked so I go in. Ahead of me is a catwalk leading into a poorly-lit cavern. At the catwalk’s end I find what looks like some kind of trap: a small dish with food pellets sits to one side of a spring-loaded container and yet another lever. I put a piece of food in the trap but the lever doesn’t do anything. Overhead a fan spins loudly.
I turn back, confused. The doors are still open when I reach the balcony, so I climb back over the railing and head back to the pipe. But when I get back to the narrow ledge I find can’t reach the pipe overhead to climb back into it! Now what? Surely I’m not stuck up here!
My only choice is to go back to the balcony. The sun is blazing here too and has warmed the rock face to an uncomfortable temperature so I seek refuge inside, and this time close the doors behind me. That’s when I spot the railing that goes off to the left. Aha! A hidden passage. I follow the stairs down; below I can hear a whirring sound. At the bottom of the stairs is a door, and behind that door I find a large, rusted dome.
The dome is spinning so fast I can’t make out the symbols on it, but I do notice that one of them is etched in gold while the rest aren’t. But there’s nothing here to give me any hint about what the dome is for or how to stop it. I dare not reach out to touch it given how fast it’s moving, so I turn around and come face to face with the open door I came through. I’ve learned my lesson now, though, and close the door without going through it. I’m rewarded with yet another passage that takes me into a hidden room containing a spyhole that looks onto the dome. There’s some kind of special viewer in front of the spyhole, and as I watch, a rotating wheel clips the image of the dome so that I can actually see the symbols on the dome’s surface. Through the viewer it looks like a kind of animated eye, first widening and shrinking like a cat’s, then opening and closing somewhat like a human one. The viewer has a button on top too.
It takes a few tries, but eventually I get lucky and hit the button when the gold symbol flashes by. In response the dome slows and stops spinning. Then I hear it flip open.
The open dome is brilliant gold. At its core is a porthole, and as I lean in close, I realize I’m looking at a book! A book. A linking book? I can’t open the porthole to find out. There’s a lock on it and I don’t have the combination. For now, this is another dead end, but suddenly I’m nervous. If that’s a linking book, then it’s possible Gehn really has escaped already. What will Atrus do then?
I go back up the stairs to the balcony doors. At the landing I find there’s another hidden passage ahead of me, which would have been hidden by the right-hand door when it was open. I check the trap first and find nothing in it, then return and go down this other passage.
The catwalk clings to the cliff before slipping between the rocks where I find a small pool of water and a stone and glass building. The door is locked, so I continue onward. The path goes through the cliff wall again and then becomes a vast bridge leading to the giant golden dome I glimpsed earlier from Temple Island. I cross that bridge but when I eventually reach the other side I find a section has been raised and the lever that would make it lower doesn’t work. I have to go back.
I’m not sure what to do now, so I walk back along the catwalk. Then I spot a lever I hadn’t noticed before. I can hear it humming, and when I throw it, the hum disappears. I notice a cable running from the lever and follow it to where it disappears into the rock—very close to the balcony. I decide to go back inside and investigate.
The trap is still empty and the lever still doesn’t do anything. But now I notice how quiet it is, and look up: the fan overhead is no longer spinning. The ducting is large and I follow it with my eyes: it disappears into the darkness in the direction of the building I found earlier. By balancing on the railing I can get a hold of the crossbar and then lift myself into the duct. A short while later I come to a grating which releases at my touch.
I drop down into the interior of the building. A cursory look around tells me this is Gehn’s lab: he assembled books here. I find some blank ones as well as some that aren’t quite finished. In the middle of the room is a kiln, and inside it I find a partially-burned book. Why would he make books only to burn them?
On the desk is a journal. I take the time to read it. Gehn has some thoughts about the Star Fissure and his son, and seems to believe Ages don’t exist until a book that links to them is written. It also seems that he’s been trying for almost all of his thirty-year exile to create the right kind of ink and paper needed to write the books the D’ni were masters at, and he’s been having trouble. The failed attempts end up in the kiln.
There’s also mention of how the number five is important to the D’ni. I’ve seen this in Riven too: star motifs in many places; rooms with five walls; the gate room with its five columns bearing five beetles; even the moniker that Gehn used for this Age. But then Gehn goes on to talk about color symbology and notes that there seem to be six colors rather than five. I think back to Rime’s crystal viewer: red, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink. In his journal, Gehn notes six eye symbols as well. These six and more were on the surface of the rotating dome I found.
Then a bombshell: in an entry dated 83.9.11, Gehn says he’s successfully linked to a new world by using something called a fire marble to power a linking book. I feel a sinking sensation in my stomach: if he could link to one new world, who knows how many others he’s linked to since then. The name of the Age he’s linked to is described only with two odd square-shaped symbols followed by ‘rd’. If Gehn refers to Riven as the Fifth Age, then perhaps this is some kind of number ending in three. As Atrus has planned in his journal, Gehn also refers to resettling the inhabitants of Riven.
I continue reading and find a page with a diagram of symbols that look familiar. The larger picture I guess to be the big golden dome that I can’t currently get to. But it’s the smaller, blocky notations that draw my attention. Where have I seen these before?
It takes me a while but then I remember: they were hidden amongst the images in one of the beetles in the gate room. This is probably important so I make a note of them before turning the page. Here Gehn has written that because of continued disturbances by the rebels (or Black Moiety, as the Rivenese apparently call them), he has installed a coded system onto all the domes. This is the information I need to get into the dome I found earlier… Except it’s written with the same kind of numerical symbols I saw on other pages in this journal, so I have no idea what numbers they actually represent. I make a note of the code anyway.
I find a reference to the “ytram traps” and wonder if that is the thing I found behind the balcony—ytram being the creature it’s intended to capture? Gehn talks about poison darts used by the rebels. That’s probably what my rescuer used on the man who initially took the prison book from me. So…the person clad in black and red was likely one of the Black Moiety. If this is true, then the rebels now have the prison book, which I suppose might be better than Gehn having it. Gehn’s journal goes on to talk about the strange daggers they use, the symbol for which is also prevalent throughout the islands I have seen so far.
At the end of the journal is an entry about a hand-held crystal that somehow powers the flawed linking books. Gehn attributes the crystal’s existence to Catherine, in that she must have created it with a D’ni schematic before Gehn captured her. The journal has a sketch of this crystal, and again I feel dismayed: if Gehn has one of these, again there is no reason to think he’s still here.
I close the journal and finish poking around the lab. There’s an interesting device on one desk: a globe with some water in it, and a burner beneath. When heated, the water slides itself away from the bottom of the globe to the top, as if avoiding the heat. Gehn talked about this briefly in his journal. The glowing rings in the ocean must be how the cart tunnel is kept dry. On another desk I find a note and another wooden eye with a symbol—that I now realize must be a number—on the back of it.
There doesn’t seem to be much else of interest here so I decide to go out through the lab’s back door. This takes me to another maglev platform, and this in turn leads me to another island.
I’m met with a strangely beautiful sight as I traverse a metal catwalk that leads me away from the maglev platform and up into the interior of this island.
The water is shallow with colorful algae, and laps quietly at the rim from which dozens of tusks reach up into the sky.
If there was somewhere to sit I would gladly stay here a while simply to enjoy the scenery. But as it is, I’m on a mission and can’t linger. Instead I walk through strange rock formations surrounded by water, only to find myself at an elevator that takes me up to yet another level of the island. Here I find a platform looking out over the rock formations I just walked through.
Before me is a kind of switchboard. The buttons on it are broken up into shapes—the same shapes I saw in Gehn’s journal and in the gate room image. Pushing each button creates a reaction from the rock formations below. Water, or something like water, pushes up through the visible grid to form a shape that is almost topographical in nature. Is this a map of the Riven islands?
I continue exploring and find another spinning dome. The viewer for it has been knocked off-kilter but even so I’m able to trigger the symbol that makes the dome flip over. As with the last one, I find a porthole and can see a linking book behind the glass that I can’t reach until I figure out the access code.
There’s a building up here too, a kind of brown metal hut. Inside there is just one feature: an odd silver grid and what looks like a magnifying glass with one of the island shapes displayed in it.
I spend some time pushing parts of the island shape inside the magnifying glass and observe the results, but I’m not really sure what this device is supposed to do right now so I go back down the elevator.
As I pass the rock formations that represent the Riven islands, I pause to look at the strangely-shaped water still protruding from one of them.
At the maglev platform I notice another door on the opposite side, so I get into the tram, rotate it 180°, and then step out. The passageway ends at a flooded chamber. The light is dim and it takes me a minute to notice the lever. When I throw it, a pair of chains rattle to life and after a moment a golden lift rises up in front of me.
I feel a bit reluctant to get into it. It came up out of the water and I see no golden rings. Surely if I go in that thing I’m going to drown? But once again there’s nowhere else for me to go so I step into the lift and push the button that closes the door. It sinks down into the water, then seems to pass out of water again and opens onto another passage.
I make my way into the caverns.
Wait! There is someone here! I startle a figure in a white robe. This person immediately flees down an adjoining path so I chase after him, only to find the path leads to a maglev platform. I arrive just in time to see the person looking over his shoulder at me as he escapes in the tram car.
I decide to let him go for now and go back into the passage, and then into the room where he must have come from originally.
I find myself in a cavern with a very large window into the ocean. Atop a column of stairs is a chair. Having been on my feet all day, I gladly sit in it. A button turns the chair around so I can look out into the ocean.
A lever on my left brings down a viewer. By playing with it I end up able to scroll through several views. Most are not too clear but it seems obvous that Gehn used this to spy or keep tabs on what was going on in other areas of Riven. I don’t see anyone in any of these views right now.
I press another button and do a double-take: the camera seems to show me a top-down view into a very small room with one door leading outside. A woman comes into the room and dons a red robe, then heads back out.
Somehow, although I have never seen a picture of her, I realize this must be Catherine and I’m looking into her prison. Relief fills me: at least even if Gehn is no longer in Riven, Catherine is still alive somewhere.
I fold up that viewer and bring down a second one. This one has six buttons on it, and each button is adorned with one of the eye symbols from Gehn’s journal. I press one and the viewer shows me a yellow colored light that appears to be underwater. When I rotate to the next button, the yellow light clicks off. The next light is green, and so on, until I have gone through almost all the buttons. The colors from the crystal viewer in Rime are all represented here.
Pushing the button corresponding to red has an unexpected result.
I hear the cry before the beast appears. It sounds somewhat like a whale, but not quite as peaceful as one. In the gloomy water before me a large shadow slowly takes shape as the beast approaches: it’s the same creature as the statues I saw in the temple as well as around the metal hut at the summit of this island.
It pauses outside the porthole and seems to study me. I’m a bit unnerved by this; it’s as if the creature was expecting someone else, and when it sees I am not that person (presumably, Gehn), it swims away and the red light goes out.
I wait a few moments and turn the red light back on. The beast returns and then leaves. Each time I call it back it seems to lose interest more quickly, until the final time.
This time the animal seems genuinely upset that it’s been summoned by someone other than its master and charges the window! A loud and low bang reverberates through the room as it slams into the porthole. It pauses to give me a rather displeased look before swimming away.
Shaken, I decide it’s better to leave well enough alone and get out of the chair. It’s been a long day so far as well, so I descend the stairs and find a place to hide myself so I can sleep. When I wake I’ll continue exploring Riven, and pray nothing finds me before then.