Natalie K. Munn
Howard Besser
Impact of New Information Resources: Multimedia and Networks
March 11, 1994

After seeing Christine Tamblyn's She Loves it She loves it Not interactive CD-ROM, I began to think about the challenges of writing critically about multi-media. After hearing her programmer, Marjorie Franklin, speak, I became conscious of another goal. This goal would be to write about multi-media and networks in a way that exposed hardware and software dependencies - both my own, and the work's. The question becomes twofold: How to write about multimedia while acknowledging the author/developer's use of various hardware & software -and how to write while acknowledging my own relationship to the work in question and my experience of learning/thinking/writing about it.

Critical writing/communication relies, in part, on an author's willingness to describe how opinions are formed and transformed. This process has many steps: the author's reaction to the original work or argument, and the author's transformation of that reaction into a communication to others. Being able to cite similarities to other works, or other people's reactions to similar works is an essential element of critical communication. Being able to identify and question the tradition from which a work comes can be an essential part of critical thinking as well. The process of critical communication can be supported or confused by identification of various schools of thought, and the implementation of the vocabularies used within the various schools. Fluency in the vocabularies and familiarity with the arguments employed by various schools of thought can help a writer to communicate critically, to make a new text out of an experience.

Creating a critical communication concerning a multi-media text should employ these same elements of citation and identification of schools of thought. While writing a critical piece concerning a multi-media text an author should attempt to identify the tradition from which the work comes. These tasks, never straight forward or simple in a single media, are often ignored or left partially accomplished in critical writing about multimedia. The vocabularies and fluencies surrounding the multiplicity of media do not always complement one another.

A visual vocabulary may be able to provide a better example of a visual work, than a textual vocabulary . A vocabulary of sound can be similarly complementary. But, moving between sound, visual, and textual vocabularies can be schizophrenic and distracting -hardly a good vehicle for critical communication. It is hard to build a convincing argument out on a terrain contorted by seismic shifts in vocabulary. The element of time is difficult to control as well. Fluencies can be fleeting as media changes rapidly. Differing levels of fluency are hard to combine.

It's like starting an argument in spoken French, giving some written examples in Chinese, and making your conclusion with Mayan hieroglyphics on various stelae. By the time you've finished, it is unlikely that any one reader can follow all you've written, and it is unlikely that multiple readers of your work will have anything like a similar experience one with another. Even if one is French, another Chinese, and another a scholar of Mayan code, the readers may not be able to talk about your work one with another in any meaningful way. If you are less fluent in spoken French than you are in written Chinese, the beginning of your argument may seem childish to someone French, while the Chinese person accepts your examples and can't understand why the French person wont take your argument seriously, and so on . . .

This text/test is an attempt to grapple with the problem of how a critical writer comes to a multi-media work, and how the experience of that work can be transformed into a new text that both functions critically and employs the vocabularies and traditions You tell me . . .

Sunday March 6, 1994
The second day, back at CompUSA in Fremont, CA:

Now, as if this isn't getting out of control already, I decide that I am really tired of waiting around for Photoshop [4 ]to gyrate through changing all the images I downloaded from AOL to PICT[5] format so that they'll work in my slide show. It's time to bite the bullet and buy some more memory. But, nothing is ever simple, and when I get to CompUSA for the second time in less than 24 hours I find myself on the opposite side of the store from the memory counter, over by the Mac games. I start reading the boxes -another big mistake. Myst [6 ] sounds like it would be fun. I decide that I can deal with terrible delays in Photoshop and I spend my money on a CD-ROM drive so that I can see if this game is really as good as it sounds. This also requires that I purchase (separately of course) a SCSI cable and a terminator, but there's no turning back now that I'm curious about this game.

The journey continues, virtually there in San Diego, CA:

I am totally psyched. I get home, hook stuff up, and play my free copy of The Animals! [7] CD-ROM that came with the new drive. I wander around the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park, watching movies and listening to bird noises. The narrator is a little behind the text sometimes because I've got the virtual memory turned on (remember I didn't buy any memory), but I am impressed and can't wait to try my new game.

The journey's first major set back:

Not wanting to get off on the wrong foot, I take a look at the manual and find out that I have to turn the virtual memory off to use Myst. I turn off the virtual memory, load up Myst and wouldn't you know it . . . I've got so much memory in use by my system already that there's no way I'm going to get enough available memory out of my Mac to play the game! Once you've gone this far down a winding road, why give up?

The journey continues at Fry's in Fremont, CA:

It's time to go to Fry's again. I'm out the door and back at Fry's again before 24 hours have passed since my last visit (remember the microphone?). I leave with my SIMMS in a little brown paper bag that 's so small it probably wouldn't hold a package of chewing gum, and I go home ready to upgrade my system (something I've been putting off since I bought it ).[8]

The journey continues on a virtual island:

After the system is upgraded, I try running Myst again, this time everything works just fine. The sound and color graphics are better than I expected and I start to play the game. I find myself on a deserted island and listen to the sound of the water and wind as I wander around getting my bearings. I move in and out of buildings and down paths and corridors. I open books and read journal entries.

I find messages and movies. I am able to turn things off and on by moving various devices. I begin to unravel the past history of the island and discover that one of he devices on the island must be a time machine. I have encountered no other characters except through traditional media like books, letters, film, and recordings.

The journey continues - going back to San Diego:

Finally, it is late and I quit the program and start to think about going to sleep. Just before I leave the computer I decide to try The Animals! one more time to see if it is any better now that I've got more memory available. The difference is substantial and there are no problems with the narration being out of synch. It is also strangely pleasant to listen to recordings of real people and to see real animals after being on the deserted island in Myst for a substantial amount of time.

Monday January 7, 1994

The journey continues: Back on the island in Myst:

I am getting pretty comfortable on the island and am starting to piece together the history of the place and have also figured out enough about how things work to begin to make changes that will allow me to leave and go else where in the game. I am still not sure if I will be traveling in time or space or both.

I am stumped by a particular device for a long time. I have found a code in the island's tower that looks like I should try to use it at the island's clock or safe. The code reads: 12:40 2,2,1. I go to the clock and change the time to 12:40. Then I try a button by the clock that hadn't worked before. Presto! A walkway appears and I am able to approach the door at the base of the clock. When I enter, I see a combination and three levers. The combination is set at 3,3,3 and I assume that I must try to set it to 2,2,1.

After toying around with the clock puzzle levers for a while, I realize that the lever to the upper right resets the combination back to 3,3,3 and the two levers below turn the wheels with the numbers.. The wheels are deceptively three sided and the numbers go from 1-3 and the wheels rotate clockwise two at a time. You can either move the top two wheels synchronously or the bottom two wheels synchronously by pulling either the right or left levers at the bottom of the picture. The catch is that you've only got a limited number of lever pulls to work with before the weight at the far left of the picture hits the floor.

The trick is to determine which sequence of lever pulls will rotate the wheels so that you can change the combination to read 3,3,3. After several random attempts it occurs to me that this is a fairly tricky operation, and that I wont stumble on the solution by chance. I get three pieces of paper and write the numbers on them and lay them out on a table so they read 2,2,1 and I begin to rotate them counter clockwise in an attempt to work the problem backward. Several times I think I've almost got it right, but I can never seem to get the 2,2,1 combination because I have to move the upper and lower sets of numbers synchronously.

It must be puzzles like this one that frustrated reviewer Mike Langberg. He complains that "the puzzles encountered while exploring Myst island are bizarrely obscure and difficult, to the point that many users will walk away in disgust" (SJMN, Computing: 2F). Langberg admits that "Gamers delight in obscure and difficult challenges, and they'll undoubtedly love ''Myst, " but , "The rest of us, accustomed to flopping on the couch and watching TV shows that require no mental effort, won't gladly endure all the pointless intricacy" (SJMN, Computing: 2F). I wouldn't quite describe myself as a couch flopper, and I'm pretty sure I'm not a gamer either, but I beg to differ with Langberg, so far I have found the puzzles in Myst to

After the success with the clock, I feel like I'm ready for anything. But there are a few hurdles to over come. I can't get the walkway out to the clock to disappear again, and I want to cover my trail. Finally I figure out that I need to change the time on the clock back from the code time that allowed me access to the door at the base of the clock. Then I return to the island's tower and there I find a new message and this time it looks like the safe combination I was after. I hurry to the safe, try the combination and Presto! the safe opens to reveal a box of matches that will allow me to light the nearby furnace. I strike a match, light the furnace, and turn a valve to get the thing primed. Then, just as I'm getting ready to congratulate myself on a job well done, my system crashes.

The journey's second major set back: The Bug

There must be a bug in the way the furnace works. I restart the system, load Myst again and take off for the safe. I turn the valve and then light the furnace. I am almost out the door, when my system crashes again. Now I am getting pretty mad. After all, I just spent more time and money than I'd really planned on to play the silly game. I am beginning to wonder if it was worth it.

Tuesday March 8, 1994
The journey continues: Myst goes to work

My spouse took the Myst game to work, and he and co-worker spent their lunch figuring out a way to avoid the bug and move to the next level. But, this isn't exactly a solution from my point of view. I feel like I haven't even figured out the first level, and that I've been cheated out of the fun of playing the game. It's like playing Monopoly and dealing out the properties instead of getting them by traveling around the board, buying and selling, and wheeling and dealing. I am disappointed in Myst..

The journey continues: back on America Online

Desperate for a paper topic, since I wanted to write about Myst, and I have found myself doubting whether it's such a good idea to write about a game with bugs, I go back on America Online to see if I can find any reviews of The Animals! . I can't resist querying the libraries of a few magazines and newspapers to see if there have been any reviews published about Myst, I am surprised by the quantity of hits I get, and the length of the articles. I start to wonder if this buggy game is becoming a raging success. I go to the best place I can think of to find out: the America Online CD-ROM games forum. The journey continues on the CD-ROM games forum:

I can't believe it. There is already a forum for signing up for the Myst fan club , and a forum for discussing playing the game.

(AOL CD-ROM Game forum Listings on 3/8/94)
MYST FAN CLUB!!! 56 01/26/94 03/04/94
Myst (part 3) 229 01/28/94 03/08/94

It looks like the Myst discussion forum is already in its third incarnation. Myst has been a success, if AOL's forums are any indication of more widespread use by other home computer owners. For a comparison to how frequently other CD-ROM games are discussed on AOL, take a look at the chart below:

I take a look at some of the posts in the Myst (part 3) forum, and discover messages about a bug fix for the mechanical age. It looks like other people have been frustrated by the same bug that I encountered. One message says to do a keyword query in the MacGames library to get a bug fix. This sounds about right, since I've been spending so much time pulling levers and that sort of thing I must be having problems in the Mechanical Age. I head to the library to look for the fix.

The search is on in the Mac games software library:

A keyword query on Myst takes me right to the files I'm looking for:

Adventure  Myst EndGame and Tricks			191	TWaits
Adventure  Myst/Saved Game #2				56	TinmanChri
Adventure  Awesome Myst Island PICT & Ico 409		728	StevenK
Adventure  MYST/saved game				694	TinmanChri
Adventure  Myst Mech Age Fix				2272  	MillerCyan

The last file listed is the one I'm after. Rand and Robyn Miller, two brothers who formed Cyan six years ago, developed the game. I got my formal introduction to the pair when I watched a quick time movie, The Making of Myst that came with the game. In the movie they explain how some of the sound effects were created. The clock tower chime sound was made with a Craftsman wrench. If you don't believe me, listen to what they said in the movie

The story of how they made the bubbles is also worth listening to. You'll never think of your toilet in the same way again.