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.
I’m three hours into the game. In my previous entry I discovered it’s been long enough since I last played that I don’t remember many of the puzzles, and even though I still have my Myst adventure journal which has copious quantities of notes in it covering Myst, Riven, Exile, and some of Uru and Revelation, I’m making a conscious effort to not spoil myself by reaching for the book when I get stuck.
Let’s see what puzzles and curiosities the Riven islands hold for me today.
Fair warning: if you’ve never played Riven, there are spoilers ahead!
I wake in the cavern with its blue glowing porthole into the ocean. I’m almost tempted to go back up to the chair to fiddle with the viewers again but decide against it. The last thing I want is that creature to get mad and come crashing through the glass! Besides, there’s still plenty more to do and I remember Atrus is anxiously waiting for a signal from me.
The first thing I do is check the tram room where the scribe escaped. The station is (still?) empty. Given his reaction to me, my guess is no one has been back to this island and probably won’t return until after I’ve gone.
There’s a switch here to summon the tram car the scribe took but before I leave I want to try to figure out what that strange silver device is in the metal hut at the top of the island. I retrace my steps to the golden lift, ride that to the tram station I arrived at, and then climb up the metal stairs to the pathway that winds itself through the rock formations until I’m at the second elevator and then finally at the platform with the odd switchboard.
I study the shape of the rock formations. I wondered before if this is a map of the Riven islands and the longer I stand here the more it seems likely. The L-shaped formation might correspond to the island I’m standing on, as once I came up the metal catwalk the island did seem to be long and narrow. I push that button and then, once the water has oozed up through the grid on top of that formation, turn around and make my way to the metal hut.
The silver grid inside the hut is flat and featureless, but the shape in the magnifying glass is now the same as the L-shape I pressed outside.
I press the first section of the L-shape and watch as the silver grid reacts. Yes! I recognize the spiked rock formation at the very front of the island, with the algae-colored water surrounding it. This is a map. But what does this device do? I poke the other sections of the L-shape in the magnifying glass and rotate the sections around several times before I spot it:
It’s subtle and easy to miss. The grid shows the location of the spinning dome—the one I opened earlier—on this island. It likewise reveals the location of domes (or suggestions of where the domes ought to be) on the other islands, too. I make notes.
Having gotten a grasp of this device, I decide to see where the scribe went and return to the tram room to summon the car. It’s a long moment before I hear it coming. It takes me to another island and deposits me in yet another underground station that leads to a rickety-looking wooden lift with a worn-looking control lever inside. A groove has been cut into the wall where the handle has passed by repeatedly. I go up one level, where I find a switch that would summon the tram car if I needed it. There’s also another lever and some kind of sloped space here but I decide to go up one more level for now.
My curiosity pays off: this rickety, wooden lift brings me to a metal catwalk leading into a lush jungle. I eagerly step out into the cool shade. It’s beautiful here, quiet with the sound of insects buzzing and birdsong. I spend several minutes simply walking slowly and looking all around me. Huge plants, some with leaves as broad as a man, grow up from the ground below and reach above my head to the treed canopy. Below in places the ground appears somewhat phosphorescent, glowing with a pale blue-white light.
The catwalk diverges into two paths, and through the trees I can see a spinning dome. I choose the left path first and it takes me directly to the dome itself. I can’t see the viewer, however, so instead I continue to follow the catwalk. A blast of hot air from below reveals an open seam of bubbling magma.
I emerge from the jungle by climbing a set of stairs, only to be halted in my tracks partway up by a sudden wailing sound. Ahead to my right I can see part of what looks like a white pod-shaped structure. It must be a lookout post. Inside it someone is working a mechanism which turns a siren on the pod’s roof. The siren is a note of warning, and after a moment the lookout ducks down out of sight. By the time I finish climbing the stairs and can see the lookout station is propped up on stilts, its occupant has already vanished. Once again, the inhabitants of Riven know where I am and don’t seem too keen on having me around.
Ahead of me, the catwalk dead ends at a metal structure surrounded by standing stones. There’s a door on this structure, but I decide to turn back for now. I want to explore the jungle some more and find the viewer for the dome first.
At the fork in the catwalk I take the right-hand path. This one quickly dead-ends at the viewer I was searching for. I peer through and patiently wait for the correct timing to turn this dome over, then go and have a look. As with the others, this dome also has a book inside it protected by the combination lock that I don’t have the cypher for yet.
The catwalk goes nowhere else so I’m forced to return to the wooden lift. I have it take me down to the second level with the tram switch, then throw the other lever here.
The wooden floor begins to drop away, revealing a jagged opening that glows orange. I step down onto the jungle floor and exit the structure. The sight that greets me when I turn around startles me. I have just emerged from the mouth of the sea creature I saw on Survey Island. A switch subtly placed on a lamp which bathes the wooden statue in the orange light makes the mouth rumble closed.
I can’t help but stare. Are the Rivenese so afraid of me because Gehn comes to them out of the mouth of this thing? The actual creature is fearsome enough but this wooden behemoth is right out of someone’s nightmare. Right now it’s broad daylight and I’m unnerved—what would they think if he appeared from this in the middle of the night? Perhaps it’s no wonder they came to revere him as a god.
I turn away to resettle myself by enjoying the peace of the jungle instead. A path leads ahead across the glowing carpet of the forest floor. I follow it up a short set of stairs and turn a corner—
A young, very cute girl is alone on the path before me. She smiles shyly then turns and runs, tripping briefly before disappearing into the tunnel. I chase her but the tunnel branches left and right and I have no idea which way she’s gone. I choose left, but evidently she took the other path because while the view ahead is beautiful, there’s no sign of her.
By now I have learned well enough that there’s no use in turning back to try to find the little girl: like the scribe and the lookout, she will have already vanished as if like smoke. Besides, if the Rivenese truly are afraid of me, it won’t do any good to force myself upon them.
For now, my only companions are the creatures of the jungle. Ahead of me a very large insect buzzes through the trees while fireflies wink in and out of sight. A stone dagger leans to the right of the path. Was it always there, originally a large boulder of stone that someone carved into this shape? Or did Gehn write it like this into the Age, only to have its shape adopted later by the Black Moiety? For some reason I find its presence comforting.
The path continues through the forest. Ferns, flowers, and phosphorescent fungus grow all around. The moss is soft and save for the sound of insects and birds, it’s blissfully quiet. Eventually I find myself at another staircase and venture up it to where the path comes to a gate and the forest seems to end.
Ah… I know where I am now. This is the forest Gehn had been cutting down to pulp for paper. And, sure enough, as I follow the path out through the gate, I find the hole in the ground where I first jumped into the cart that took me on the rollercoaster ride of death that landed me in the wood chipper.
Mysteriously, the cart has returned to this island on its own. I recall the odd creature trap in the cavern and decide I might brave the track again later to go back and see if I can figure out how to get it set properly. For now I’ll explore Jungle Island some more.
I choose one of the other paths. It takes me to a break in the cliff wall and down a flight of stairs to a wooden walkway.
Ahead of me is the now empty lookout. I’m kind of disappointed my presence was announced to the entire island. Other than the guard who stole the prison book, no one has actually spoken to me since I arrived and it’s getting kind of lonely.
My choices are to continue on down the path ahead or take a turn to the right. I choose to go right and find myself at another gate which opens at my touch, revealing a short set of stairs that crosses over the lava pool and leads down into the jungle and the hut with the dome on top. This would be the path the girl took when she ran from me. I close the gate and continue on down the wooden path. It takes me into the rockface again and down another flight of stairs which are lit by pale blue sconces.
Something on the wall about halfway down the stairs catches my eye, but when I turn to look, I’m not sure I actually saw anything. In the dim blue light it takes a few moments to search the wall of the passage, but then I find it: a primitive-looking pictogram. It seems to show Gehn, a couple of the sea creatures…and two Rivenese being fed to them. A shiver creeps up my back.
The passage ends at another wooden path leading over water. Before me is a village built onto high, straight cliffs. The Rivenese are scrambling to hide: I see several people dashing about on walkways that run between spherical homes, and just a short distance away a mother gathers up a young child and disappears out of sight behind an outcropping. Silence descends over the village and I try not to sigh with disappointment.
To my left is a lake. As I walk along the path, an inverted cone-like structure comes into view on the opposite shore. I’m not sure how I could reach it. Perhaps there’s a boat closer to the village that I could use.
There also seems to be another lookout of some sort high up on the opposite cliff, but again, no obvious way to get to it. From here I can’t tell if there’s anyone inside either.
Then I notice something odd about the water. The lake is pefectly still: no ripples from current or wind to disturb the surface. And out some distance from me, I see what appear to be…depressions…in the liquid. I step to the edge of a platform and look down; there’s a metal ladder leading into a ‘hole’ in the water. At the bottom is another platform, perfectly dry, with tracks on either side.
Where is the car (sub?) that runs along those tracks? I’ll have to find it to be able to explore the bottom of the lake.
The wooden path takes me into the village itself. I find myself at the bottom of a series of ladders. With no other way to go, I climb up.
From up here, the strange holes in the water are much easier to see, as are the tracks running along the lake bottom. I can also see what looks like a rock with a scope coming out of it and wonder if the images I saw from the viewer on Survey Island were of this lake. A bit further out I can just make out the floating orb that Gehn talked about in his journal, the one that he had removed but was then mysteriously replaced overnight.
The village behind me is quiet and closed. Not a door open anywhere, not a soul to be seen, although somewhere I can faintly hear an infant crying.
I want to still be surprised that the Rivenese are so afraid to interact with me, but having seen the pictograph, perhaps it’s not such a shocker after all. Perhaps Gehn has made it a law not to interact with strangers…else face being eaten.
But I’m here to trap Gehn, free Catherine, and, ostensibly, free the Rivenese in the process. The Black Moiety have the prison book, which I need to get back. The Rivenese might know where the rebels are…some of them are probably rebels themselves. I need these people to trust me, so I step up to the nearest door. There’s a star-shaped knocker hanging from it, and I recall what I have read about the significance of the number five in D’ni culture.
So, I knock five times.
A panel in the door opens! A face peers out at me but before I can say anything, the panel is snapped shut. I knock repeatedly but no one answers.
Again I can faintly hear the cry of an infant somewhere in the village, but otherwise, everything is silent and still. I decide to move on.
The village is a maze of walkways, some of which I can’t fathom how to actually get at. The one I’m on takes me to a plateau where I find what looks like the sub car, a gold altar, and a kiln. By flipping a lever, the sub descends down the cliff to the lake bottom—I’ll still have to figure out how to get down there before I can get into it. For right now, it seems I’m at a dead end so I retrace my steps through the village and all the way back up to the tree stumps at the very top of the island.
There’s one more path I haven’t been down yet: the way to the left from where I originally emerged out of the rock after I first arrived here.
The steps are steep and I’m glad they aren’t wet, else I might slip and break my neck. They go all the way down to the shore. I’m careful as I approach: on a smooth rock sitting in the shallows by the beach, two large finned creatures are sunning themselves.
By approaching slowly I get pretty close, but one of the sunners lifts its head to bugle a warning. I watch them for a moment longer, but as I turn away they decide they’ve had enough of my intrusion and slip into the water with a splash.
The beach curves around the sunner’s rock and ends at a point by a stubby palm tree. From here there are no other islands in view, just an endless stretch of water that meets the puffy white clouds at the horizon.
I turn back and see a familiar sight:
From this angle, the rocks happen to form the shape of that frightening sea creature. A coincidence of nature, or a sign of intelligent design? Gehn has used this half-whale, half-shark predator to intimidate, frighten, and apparently even eat the Rivenese. Like the number five, the wahrk appears everywhere I go.
But I notice the sand is thicker here, and half-hidden in the rock shadows is something I’ve seen before: one of the wooden eyes. I cross to it, and it rotates to reveal what I think is the D’ni number five. There’s a sound, too, one that makes my skin crawl. I rotate the eye a few more times to make sure I’ve heard properly: the cry of the wahrk.
A wooden eye, embedded in a rock formation that looks like a warhk, that makes the sound of a wahrk when rotated? Can’t be a coincidence.
That’s when I realize one of the other wooden eyes I found made a sound too. The one in Gehn’s lab didn’t, but the one by the tram car on this island made a kind of a chirping sound. I should probably go back to double check, and see if I can figure out what animal makes that sound. Maybe there are others I haven’t found yet. And the one in Gehn’s office? It came from the village lake, so perhaps if I can find my way to the sub I can find out about that one too.
I return to the path and follow it up into a tunnel that eventually opens onto another wooden walkway. Here again I find one of the pod-like lookout posts but this one is already empty. When I look to my right I see that I’m now on the opposite side of the lake from the village.
The path takes me to a plateau with a textured stone pool in it, with a wooden eye embedded in the bottom. The pool is dry, but there’s a lever on one side that lets some water into it. I watch, fascinated, as the water seems to draw a shape before my eyes. I’m not sure what the shape is exactly, so lean down to examine the wooden eye more closely.
It turns over and I hear a low fluttering sound. I’ve heard this sound before, in the jungle: the large flying insect that buzzed past me near the stone dagger. The shape makes sense now. It’s a beetle.
On the other side of the pool I find a ladder that leads me down almost to the water. Another path crosses into the rock and then comes out at a metal platform with yet another ladder leading down. At the bottom of that ladder?
The sub car. I stop to wonder for a moment how exactly it ended up positioned under this metal platform when I originally saw it dropped vertically from the top of the cliff. Perhaps someone extended this platform for me after I left the vicinity of the village?
I climb down the ladder. The access hatch opens easily. There’s room inside for just one person. As I pull the hatch closed behind me, I wonder if I’m about to be taken on a whirlwind ride again like I was in the wood chipper car.
But unlike that other car, the sub has controls. In front of me is a viewport out into the lake. I can hear the sub’s systems popping and pinging quietly, waiting for me to set it going. I push a lever forward, and slowly the sub lurches into motion. As I move down the track I see the bottom of the lake contains a trench and I recall Atrus saying this Age is slowly ripping itself apart. Somewhere on Riven is the star fissure, which I’ve not caught a glimpse of yet. Could it be down here?
I navigate my way around the lake until the sub emerges into one of the holes. I stop, pop the hatch, and poke my head out. I’m somewhere in the lake but there’s nowhere to get out of the water so I climb back in, seal everything up, and continue on. There seem to be at least two circles of track, along with a couple of one-off spurs, and where the circles intersect I can choose to switch from one to the other. I know from wandering around in the village that there must be fish in here, as I saw them hanging from strings to dry, but I don’t see any schools from the sub. There are beautiful bright red plants down here though.
Eventually I come to a hole I can climb out of. I’m right by the cliff wall and above me are rungs attached to the rockface itself that lead up to what I thought of earlier as another lookout post. I climb up…and up…and up… The room I emerge into is empty save for a bank of levers and a window that overlooks the lake and the village.
From here I can see all the various holes in the lake as well as places I could get out…if the metal platforms reached out far enough. Right now the only one that seems to be extended is the one I started from on the far side of the lake. When I compare to the levers behind me, only one is flipped. So if someone flipped this lever after I lowered the sub, how did they get out of this room? Perhaps they swam across the lake after I was out of sight. I flip the rest of the levers and look back; sure enough, now the other platforms are extended.
I climb down to the sub and get in it.
The next hole I come to with a platform finds me at a large hut nestled away into a quiet corner of the lake. The door is ajar so I go in.
It’s actually a schoolhouse!
Wait, a schoolhouse? Over here? How do the students and teachers get here, one by one in the sub? Or do they have to swim across the lake themselves twice a day?
In any case, I take my time to explore the room. It has several rows of benches, two chalkboards (one with what might be the day’s lesson written on it), as well as what looks like letters of an alphabet hung on wooden planks close to the ceiling. Is this the D’ni alphabet? Some of it looks familiar but I can’t recall where I’ve seen the script before. Would a man like Gehn teach the people of Riven how to speak D’ni? Perhaps he would, if he thought D’ni to be superior to any language they had of their own. It might be beneath the man to learn something he felt was inferior.
At the front of the room is a smaller version of the wire globe I saw in Gehn’s temple. This one sits on a stone pedestal and has a crank attached to it. I wind it up and watch as a man’s face appears—this must be Gehn himself—and speaks a language I don’t understand. He seems to be making eye contact with people even though the room is empty, so I guess this is a prepared recording that is meant only to be played when the students are here.
His attitude seems high and mighty and holier-than-thou. I’m reminded of Sirrus.
The really interesting part of the schoolhouse is a game I find on a table off to one side. It features something I’ve seen before: two Rivenese figures dangling by their feet with a hungry wahrk waiting below. By grabbing the ring on the bottom part of the contraption and giving it a pull, the wahrk moves to sit below one of the figures. A roulette wheel spins inside the base and randomly chooses a number to display at the small window on the front of the game. Once chosen, the figurine above the wahrk drops down a certain number of notches. Pull the ring again: the wahrk moves to the opposite figurine, another random number is chosen, and that figurine drops down.
The figurine to hit twenty notches first drops into the wahrk’s mouth.
It’s horrible, really. To learn D’ni numbers, the children also learn about death. Twenty strokes and you get eaten. No wonder the Rivenese are afraid, what with this kind of mental conditioning. I can feel my resolve to find Gehn strengthening. Maybe I’ll forget about the prison book and just feed him to his pet wahrk instead!
Setting aside how disturbing this game is, it does offer something useful: a way to learn D’ni numbers. I play several times in order to catch several examples, and then start to work it out: like most everything else, the D’ni base their numerals around the number five. At five and higher the characters are written as combinations of numbers zero through four, with rotation and multiplication coming into play.
I know from Gehn’s journal that, at some point, numerals have to be written side by side to express larger numbers. Based on what I’ve just learned, the number twenty-five would have to be the first number to require this, as rotating the numeral five again would just turn it back into the number one. This makes it a base twenty-five math system.
I can now decipher the lock for the golden domes, which will give me access to the linking books contained within!
But am I ready to go to the Age Gehn managed to write? He is probably hiding there, since I haven’t seen him anywhere else in Riven yet.
Despite my sudden zeal for the idea of feeding Gehn to the wahrk, I decide not. I need to find Catherine first and get the prison book before I try to find him.
I leave the schoolhouse and jump back into the sub. I want to get to the strange conical-shaped platform. With the earlier pictograph and the game in mind I have a good idea now what it’s for.
Once I arrive, crossing the metal platform brings me to a ring surrounding a circle of open water. The pool below this platform is quite deep. Above me, the ribs of the structure come together at a point and what seems to be a platform high overhead.
I walk slowly around the ring until I come to a handle hanging by a rope. It’s within reach, so I pull it.
Overhead, I can hear a whirring sound, as like something unspooling. Sure enough, a moment later a crossbar lowers into view over the center of the pool. The crossbar is just wide enough to accomodate a set of ankles and chains.
This is the warhk gallows.
I’m nearly sick as I realize this. So not only does Gehn actually sacrifice the Rivenese to the wahrk, he does it within full view of the village!
I half-expect the warhk to jump up out of the water, looking for the meal that isn’t there, but the lake remains still. After a moment, the crossbar automatically retracts. It’s out of reach; I wonder if there’s another way to get up to the platform.
As I stare at the pool below I start to feel lightheaded and dizzy; I have to get out of here. It won’t do if I pass out, fall in the water, and end up eaten myself. I decide to leave the vicinity for now. The villagers remain locked in their huts and will stay there until I’m out of sight, and I’m sure I’ve terrorized them enough for one day. I’m also sure they’ve been watching me and I wonder what they think.
I decide to return to the jungle.
On my way past the forest gate, I see something large crawling up the thick post. It’s a beetle about the size of my hand, and it’s the same gold color as the domes. The beetles on the columns in the gate room on Temple Island were obviously modeled after this creature. It doesn’t seem to mind me looking at it, but when I reach out to see if I can touch its hard carapace, the insect startles and flies away with the same low flutter I heard from the wooden eye.
I wander back into the jungle. It’s time to give myself a chance to rest and think about everything I’ve pieced together today. But where to hide where I won’t be discovered? Despite how comforting the jungle is I’m not sure there’s anywhere here that would be secluded enough. Then I recall the strange metal hut I found up beyond the dome and make my way back to it. It’s sitting in full sunlight so will probably be like an oven inside, but maybe that will likewise dissuade anyone from thinking I’m hiding in there.
The door opens easily.
I groan when I see what’s inside. It’s a kind of throne made from the lower jaw of a wahrk, with two levers in front. Is there nowhere this symbol of fear doesn’t exist in Riven? I almost decide to leave and look for somewhere else but in the end hunker down behind the throne and try to avoid looking at it. When next I wake I’ll see about figuring out what this thing is for.