Adventure Notes – Myst

Adventure Notes - Myst

realMyst box artOne of the big surprises for me in 2012 has been my unexpected foray into point-and-click adventure games. It’s a genre I’ve had little interest in before, due chiefly to the fact that I’m not very good at them. And yet, for whatever reason, I started dabbling in them. I have since finished a handful of them, and have discovered that I really enjoy them! It might be due to the assistance of the Internet, where if I get stuck, it’s easy to look up the solution and move on.

My latest completion is Myst, which I actually have played before, but it was back in the mid-’90s when it was still fairly new. I had forgotten most of the puzzles, and only remembered some of the environments and the general storyline. The version I played through this time was realMyst, which was a full 3D remake that came out in 2000. It’s a brilliant and fantastic game, and I enjoyed it immensely.

And yet, it’s kind of a divisive game. Even back when it first came out, despite being the best-selling PC game of all-time, it got hammered by game critics for being an example of everything that was wrong with “new” CD-based games. They claimed it was all graphics and no gameplay, and didn’t have anywhere near the depth of even old text adventures. Even in 1996, when Next Generation magazine published its Top 100 Video Games of All-Time (the first time I’m aware of anyone doing such a thing), they practically bragged about snubbing Myst, even mentioning so on the cover.

Looking at the game today, it’s kind of an interesting mix of old school and modern design. Its approach of simply dumping the playing into the game world with little-to-no explanation or direction is decidedly old fashioned, and yet, it was still handled very well. The environments were small enough that I never got lost. Clues, which may have been nothing more than random numbers, seemed obscure at first, but I instantly knew what to do with them in the context of their puzzle. Indeed, this was the first adventure game I’ve played all year in which I never got stuck and needed to get help.

realMyst
realMyst

On the other end of the spectrum, Myst‘s highly streamlined and minimalist interface was extremely forward thinking in 1993. This approach is commonplace today, but it was completely against the grain at the time. Many adventure games from the likes of LucasArts and Sierra Online had multiple commands, inventory systems, and complex conversation trees. Myst‘s only command was to point and click on things. The only inventory was the one thing you could hold at a time. As for conversation trees, there weren’t any to speak of. This may have been seen as a dumbing down of the genre, but actually, it kept the puzzle-solving firmly in the game’s environments, and out of the interface, where you might spend a lot of time just trying to guess which command or item you were supposed to use.

And while it still has its detractors today, Myst‘s reputation has turned out to be favorable. Most recently, it was chosen to be part of a new video game exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. The game also had several sequels, the first of which, Riven, I will probably have already started playing by the time I post this.

I’m happy that the adventure genre, once thought dead, has been making a little bit of a comeback in recent years. I’ve started this Adventure Notes feature, similar to my RPG Journal series, in order to discuss my exploration of the genre. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

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