MYST Review for ILS 604 Winter 1996


The Setting

MYST places the player in an alternate world. The setting is an abandoned island. There is no indication in the documentation for the game nor any immediate clues within the game itself about when or where this island exists. All that is known from the opening sequence of the game that there are books which can teleport the player.

The Plot

Unlike some other first-person games like Doom, the goal is not to kill things. The struggle in MYST is against invading aliens, but against puzzles. The weapons needed are not guns and grenades, but wits and astute observations of the scenes presented by the game.

The most interesting thing about MYST is that the plot is not revealed. As in life, the player is forced to determine where to go and what to do. There are no clues in the scant instructions for the game to indicate what lies ahead, only instructions on how to get around and look at objects.

The Effects

As one would expect from a multimedia game, the sound and visual effects are far more outstanding than what one would expect from a typical computer game. There are such astounding real-world sounds as gulls and ocean waves lapping at the shoreline, generators rumbling to life, elevators rattling during ascent and descent, and doors opening and closing. All of these help transport the player from the seat in front of the computer monitor into this alternate world. The background music also assists in hypnotizing the user into the game, though it is a much more unconscious effect than the sounds related to actions and objects on the island.

The visual effects are no less spectacular. While there are few moving animations other than those resulting from the player manipulating particular objects within the game, the detail of the still shots of world is breath-taking. Gone are the days of blocky pixel graphics in arcade games. Though the quality of the graphics in MYST bely their computer-generated origins, they are captivatingly realistic for such work.

Reality of the Hype

Of course, one aspect of the game that is designed to attract buyers to purchase MYST is the marketing hype. The player is promised to be sent to an "alternate reality." This is quite a titilating prospect for many game players. The more capability for interaction in a realistic manner with the game, the more engrossed the player becomes. How close does MYST come to fulfilling this?

The answer, as with the answer to many questions, is that MYST's ability to deliver what is promised really depends on the player's expectations. If one is expecting moving scenes and smooth motion through the scenes as walking over the terrain of the island, disappointment will result. Scene transitions are from one still shot to another for the most part. A walk through the park it is not (if you will excuse the word play on a cliché).

There is also a sense within MYST that events unfold depending on what the player does. Things are revealed, mysteries discovered and solved, as the player wanders the land and trhough time. Certainly this lends to the feeling of reality to the game. Of course, it is only a computer program and, as such, is strictly deterministic about what the player can manipulate and what effects those manipulations will have. Taken at face value, such an observation would seem to discredit any claims of reality within the game at all. However, I think it is only a matter of degrees that separates MYST (or any other computer game for that matter) from reality. Determinism is a philosophical theory that has existed for many centuries. While the manifestation of determinism as the ultimate truth is questionable, one must admit that the real world does have very deterministic characteristics. If I walk to a door and have a key, I can open the door and discover what is behind it, else I am forced to search other opportunities. Such is the case within any computer program. Life, though much more complicated than any computer program, can be said to consist of many conditional statements that effect what course our actions will yield. While one expecting the ablility to leave the island in frustration to explore other parts of the world will be extremely disappointed and have feelings of restriction of actions, the player who enters play with the understanding of the limitations of a computer-generated reality on a microcomputer will be enthralled. (Face it, even if the programmers had the computing power to generate an entire world for the player to explore instead of a single island and the player had a powerful enough computer to play it, we would likely never see the finished product in our lifetime due to magnitudes of scale. What fun is a vaporware game to play no matter how sophisticated and life-like it supposedly will be?)

Conclusion

Does MYST deliver what it promises? I would say it does within the limits inherent in the medium. Real life it is not and never will be, but a thoroughly enjoyable escape it is. It is as deterministic and the vision of the programmers' imagined reality of the imaginary world as any story written on paper by an author. The ability to interact with the story visually and audibly should not serve to lessen the entertainment experience or make the player feel cheated in some way because it does not mimic real life as he or she expects. It is, after all, promoted as an "alternate reality" and, if the player feels compelled to explore a world without someone else's restrictions on what can be done within it, imagination is just a thought away. As for the MYST experience, I plan to enjoy it until I resolve the game's mystery and, for anyone interested in games of thought and puzzle-solving, I strongly recommend it.


MYST Resources on the Internet.

What Web page would be complete without links to other pages? There are several MYST related pages out there on the Internet. A good place to start is the Cyan Home Page. It contains links to hints, paraphernalia, reviews, and other players' experiences and thoughts about the game.


Author: Jeff Traigle
Last Updated: Friday, 15-Mar-96 22:12:35 EST