It feels bizarre to be talking about a game that hit shelves in 1993 when I was born one year later, but “Myst” was one of a handful of games my parents installed on our older Mac OS 9 computer until it finally broke down in the early 2000s. Even then, the graphics blew me away – most 3D video games still looked pretty blocky, while the worlds in “Myst” approached photorealism.
The Spokane area’s legendary indie game development team Cyan Inc. was able to achieve this because “Myst” used pre-rendered environments. Recall that Pixar’s “Toy Story” hit theaters in 1995 and looked incredible for the time – that’s because it rendered scenes with massive polygon counts on very beefy computers, then took snapshots of those scenes playing out frame-by-frame until they had a movie.
Video games that use pre-rendered graphics, including “Myst,” achieve their incredible look using similar techniques. The drawback to doing this is that the environments are technically 2D on your own display. Whatever perspective Mead’s Cyan gives you, you’re stuck with – you can’t freely and seamlessly walk around their worlds.
To its credit, Cyan did a fantastic job giving players the sensation of real-time movement using scrolling effects and capturing things from a multitude of angles. This is where Cyan’s 2021 remake of “Myst” comes in – it’s the same game the world knows and loves but playing out in real time.
The graphics are better than ever, and if you have a virtual-reality headset, you can explore it that way, too. Cyan’s greatest strength and most unique trait as a game developer has always been its ability to craft bizarre yet immersive worlds, so VR is a shoe-in. The only issue with VR here isn’t the tech – it’s that progression in “Myst” can take a very long time, and wearing a headset for hours on end isn’t exactly pleasant.
The slow progress is a quirk of “Myst,” but it’s not entirely unwelcome. The story begins with you, “the stranger,” opening a book and being whisked away to the island of Myst. In this series, books can act as receptacles and portals to otherworldly realms. Playing from a first-person perspective, you may roam freely about the island discovering curios and books as you go.
There are no enemies or combat to speak of, no survival mechanics and no time limit. It’s just you traveling through strange realms. “Myst” has always instilled in me a palpable sense of loneliness and curiosity. Combined with a dreamlike synth-heavy soundtrack, it’s enough to intermittently send pleasant chills down your spine if you allow yourself to be immersed.
The original “Myst” pioneered environmental storytelling in games. Most titles to this day use noninteractive cut scenes between gameplay segments, but in “Myst,” stories, character beats and worlds are discovered through the environment itself. By beating puzzles, you’re not just progressing through the game, but also solving mysteries along the way. It was iconic in 1993 and remains relatively uncommon today.
While the game is a timeless masterpiece and an important part of video game history, “Myst” isn’t for everyone. Few children may enjoy it; The original was Cyan’s first video game aimed at adults, and that hasn’t changed. Furthermore, adults who possess keen observational skills and enjoy abstract puzzles and a slow-burning story will find fulfillment in playing “Myst.”
A pen and paper won’t hurt either – some of the puzzles really are that complex.
Despite its supposed limited appeal, “Myst” was the bestselling PC game from 1993-2002 before being overthrown by “The Sims.” It was also ported to just about every game console capable of running it, including failed ones like the Atari Jaguar CD and Philips CD-i.
“Myst” spawned several sequels, all of which sold millions. With this comprehensive remaster proving that “Myst” needed little more than a fresh coat of paint to be modernized, it’s my hope that Cyan can give the same treatment to its sequel “Riven” next. And as someone who loves exploring their worlds without the stress of unraveling mind-boggling puzzles, I hope they find the time to revisit “The Manhole” and “Cosmic Osmo,” as well.
“Myst” began as an Oculus Quest exclusive in December before becoming available Aug. 26 for $30 on PC, MacOS and Xbox platforms. It’s also playable now for free for Xbox Game Pass subscribers.
Riordan Zentler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.