They Myst the Point

I am not typically one to pirate games, and I don’t condone it in any way. However after I finished Myst IV, I had to find out how the series continued. So I “acquired” a copy of Myst V.

Some may say I stole it but I think that is an unfair analogy. It’s not like stealing a candy bar. I steal a candy bar the store is out a candy bar. I pirate a game the game company is out nothing. True they don’t receive the money I would have spent if I bought it legitimately, but that is hypothetical, and to me the choice was pirate the game or not play it at all.

But I will, eventually, purchase a copy of Myst V legitimately…in spite of the fact that it’s not worth a single penny.

The tradition of the Myst franchise has remained constant for the first four games. A point-and-click adventure, from the first-person perspective, utilizing pre-rendered stills, featuring the one-quarter D’ni writer of Ages: Atrus, and his family. Each game told a story featuring the aftermath of Sirrus and Achenar’s betrayal of their father, Atrus, and you are the nameless, ageless, genderless, silent protagonist commonly known as the Stranger, however Atrus always refers to him or her as “my friend.” That’s first name “My,” last name “Friend.” It works.

Each sequel featured an enhancement to the game engine. The original Myst was a simple HyperCard program, with no inventory system except for your hand which can only hold one item at a time, and so most of the time you carry nothing. It was a simple program and it’s simplicity was carried over to it’s sequels. Riven added better graphics (from what I could see) and a simple inventory system, all you ended up carrying are journals and a trick linking book. Myst III added a 360 degree panoramic viewing system. Finally, Myst IV added a new interface system, if you need to pull a lever you click and drag downward instead of simply clicking on it. They also added an in-game camera (By camera I mean the kind that takes pictures) and all the pre-rendered graphics were accompanied with some real-time rendering, specifically for the dynamic water effects and the sky-line.

So in the tradition of continually enhancing the game engine, Myst V introduced a full 3D environment, allowing free roaming throughout the various Ages. It is a great idea, however there is one problem, it is badly executed.

In Myst I through IV there were certain puzzles where you had to be at a certain angle to see the clue, or there was an optimal angle to utilize an object’s controls, and because everything was pre-rendered you didn’t need to worry about it, there were only a couple viewing angles so it was pretty easy to find the right one. In Myst V similar puzzles can give you a headache as you try to find the optimal angle. While there is an option to use the classic node-based control method which eliminates this problem, it sort of breaks the game’s flow as one goes into the settings menu to change the option.

However this problem is relatively minor compared to a similar problem involving controls. In one of the early puzzles you need to walk across a narrow path that twists and turns, and the controls make it very easy to fall of the path requiring one to start over. Switching to the classic control mode once again solves this problem, and once again it breaks flow.

Now unlike most critics I am not one to complain without offering solutions: The first is to simply not have puzzles that require one to view them at precise angles, it’s a simple solution. The second is to position the camera at the optimal angle to view control panels when I click on the control panel. The third solution is to place invisible rails along those narrow paths, like the invisible rails on the edges of most ages that prevent one from falling off and dying. These solutions would make the free roaming environments work, unlike they do now because of problems they didn’t notice or didn’t care about.

Another problem is the visuals. Real-time rendering has it’s benefits, but also it’s deficits, one of which is displaying people. In previous Myst titles real live actors were filmed in front of a blue screen and composited into the pre-rendered scenes, but this is typically not feasible in a real-time rendered environment. So what is typically done for these types of games is the character is modelled in 3D and rendered in the same way as the rest of the environment. This makes sense and it works well for the game.

However Cyan decided they wanted something more realistic. So they used a motion capture system to get the right mannerisms for the characters. This makes sense. But they didn’t stop there. For the character’s faces they took video of the actor’s faces as they were saying their lines and placed the video as a texture on the character’s faces. This should work in theory, however not so much in practice. When a character talks their jaws don’t move, and it looks even worse in profile when you see a black sploch where their mouth opens. There are also scenes involving the imagers which appear to be the video that was intended for the character’s head, plastered on a TV. It simply looks weird.

Anyway there is a simple solution to this…USE REAL LIVE ACTORS! I know I said they don’t work in a real-time 3D environment, but it did work in realMyst. There is also a small caveat that would allow real live actors to work. Whenever a character has a cut scene the camera shifts to a specific position. That’s not my idea that already happens in the game. It kind of defeats the purpose of using real-time rendered characters. While there are times that it is required, where the character stands there doing nothing and you can view them at any angle. At this point a special camera technique could be used was (at the time this game was made) six years old. You know those bullet-time scenes in the Matrix? They were filmed in real time. When they wanted to do the bullet-time thing they would put the actor in a green screen room filled with cameras at every angle and all those cameras would take their photos simultaneously and in post they would be put together to create those iconic scenes. The point is they could have done it and they didn’t. They wanted realism but they failed and the attempt actually looks worse than if they just did the same thing they did with Uru.

Ah Uru. That brings me to my next beef. This does not feel like a real Myst game. It’s an Uru game, they only used the Myst name because Myst is such a recognizable name. It was marketing, pure and simple. I’m reminded of the 1998 Godzilla movie, it was Godzilla in name only. Myst V is Myst in name only. True it is technically part of the same universe but so is Uru. The plot of Myst V focuses on Yeesha, Atrus’ daughter and the player character is not the aforementioned Stranger, but someone completely new, which makes sense considering this game takes place 180 years after Myst IV. I’d like to point out, the D’ni have a much longer lifespan than us. Also, the plot is about a journey to release the Bahro tablet, a quest taken by at least two others, each of which failed. So, unlike the first four games which were about a crisis in Atrus’ life that needed to be fixed by his friend, this game is about something that isn’t as special. If you fail nothing bad really happens, it simply means the status quo remains. It feels like the journeys in Uru, something that anyone can do, and can be done at any time. It is not a crisis, it really doesn’t matter.

Then there’s the game itself. The ages are quite short in comparison to previous Myst games. The first age I visited, Tahgira, has one puzzle, one puzzle, and it isn’t even that deep. The only age I really liked was Todelmer because it had the most beautiful sky I have ever seen.

I’ve heard great reviews for this game, which confuses me. Myst V, while not a bad game in general, is pretty damn bad for a Myst game. The worst Myst game ever, it doesn’t even fall into the same category. The puzzles are deceptive at some points and the supposed hints given to you by Esher sometimes leave you hanging. It all feels lacking and unfinished. What’s really sad is this is the first game Cyan developed in the Myst franchise (not including Uru) since Riven, and it is the last game of the series. They went out with a pile of crap.

I guess all that’s left for me now is to hope Uru Live comes back, and to read the books. Until then I guess I’ll find something else to occupy my time.

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One response to “They Myst the Point

  1. Hi Blackwidower,
    Several others have had similar feelings about the series of games. You can read many of threads where the merits of the different styles of play are debated on Uru Obsession and Myst Online.

    Uru is a special case. It is not part of the series of games, in the game story context. Myst games are happening in the past and the player deals with D’ni people. In the time of Uru the relics of the D’ni civilization were found by current day people. The D’ni are gone. This part of the game initially was being promoted as a mixed Alternate Reality Game and an MMOG. Game play had to change to accommodate the MMO play.

    Now people are looking at how to create fixes for the problems of a changing culture and a now MMOG knowledgeable player base. The initial play in Prologue (Uru Open Beta – 2003) was started from a single player perspective that moved on to multiplayer after completing most of the game. In 2007 the game was changed to allow players familiar with MMOG’s to find players as soon as they entered the game. The change broke the story line in many fans minds. Instead of starting in the desert, one started in the Relto, went to the neighborhood and got a KI and connected with the other players.

    Several solutions and recommendations have been made for how the game could be changed for better MMO play by experienced MMOG players and maintain the story line and Myst-Uru experience. Visit the OpenUru.org forum to read many of the ideas.

    Thanks for relating your thoughts.

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