The First Myst: A Storybook Come to Life
What does it take for a game to be a game? Does it need to have some villains to defeat or some treasure to collect? Do you need to constantly be engaged in activity without pause? Perhaps, it can simply be an artistic world full of puzzles to be unraveled and a narrative to be told. Myst is this final type, and entirely accepted for what it is now, but at the time of its introduction, it was something incredibly outside the norm for what players expected a game to be. Its focus on style and storytelling above all else blew minds and made believers out of the uninitiated and built a series like no other, and it was today in 1993 that the world took the first adventure to the mysterious titular island.
Myst began as a humble concept from brothers Robyn and Rand Miller. The Millers were relative newcomers to game creation in 1990, having produced several children’s games prior. However, these games contained little to no story and only simple worlds to be explored. The brothers had ambitions for something a little vaster in scope. They wanted to create a game more aimed at adults that would tell an actual story. For this new concept, the brothers wanted to create a non-linear adventure that the player could explore at their leisure as well as choice elements that would challenge the player ethically. They also wanted to create a world more visually appealing and graphically intensive than any they had created before.
Finding funding for their project from Sunsoft of Japan, the brothers would bring the talents they needed together to form Cyan Inc. In creating their vision, the team decided the game should be a mystery punctuated by visiting other worlds known as Ages, with an island serving as a hub world to tie all things together. The portals to the other ages were inspired by C.S. Lewis’ novel series The Chronicles of Narnia and the lush island of Myst was inspired by Jules Verne’s novel The Mysterious Island.
In Myst, the player takes on the role of the Stranger, who stumbles across a book titled “Myst”. Upon reading the book, the Stranger discovers details of an intricate island and upon reaching the last page of the book, the Stranger is magically transported to the island detailed within. There, he discovers two books containing two brothers, sons of another man who lived on the island. From their respective books, the brothers tell the player that their father has died and each points the finger at the other as the cause, but the pages of their books are missing, leaving holes in their messages. It is up to the Stranger to discover the missing pages by traversing portals to Ages that contain pages to each brother’s book, discern their messages and motives and determine who is telling the truth.
The gateway to each Age and the environments therein contain puzzles the player must crack in order to move forward in Myst. In creating the puzzles, the Miller brothers agreed that they could not feel like puzzles as they were afraid it might break immersion of the story. Instead, they desired to create puzzles that would fit mechanically into the design of the story and would be solved by observation and common sense. More importantly, the team wanted to ensure that each puzzle was engaging, yet considered the environment and its place in the story. This would become a design philosophy that informed not only the challenges in Myst, but all future games in the series as well.
Myst was groundbreaking at the time of its release. It established story immersion in a game that was unlike most anything at the time. Moreover, its initial release on Macintosh and PC systems was cited as one of the most influential products in the sale and popularization of CD-ROM drives, which were still coming into their own place at the time. Cyan Inc. would go on to build a franchise around Myst, including not only direct sequels to the game, but spin-offs and novelization as well. A game can take on many forms. Myst showed us that an incredibly enjoyable, interactive story can be one of them.