Documenting Myst


Navigation of Myst

Myst belongs to the adventure game genre, and as such its gameplay cannot be discussed in a vacuum. While there is a large variety in the styles of gameplay present within different adventure games, they share common elements. The primary aspect of adventure games is the exploration of a virtual space, with aspects like simulated combat or challenges of motor-skills coming secondary if present at all. Text-based adventure games on the computer date back to Colossal Cave Adventure, a game that started as a digital recreation of the real life Mammoth Cave system with fantasy elements added in.

These early text-based games had the player move from location to location through blocks of text describing their surroundings, and possibly providing prompts to further action. This node-based navigation acted as a puzzle within itself, and while the story of the game may contain a villain or antagonist, in terms of gameplay the environment acted as the primary antagonist that the player was faced with.

As computer graphical technology advanced, visual elements became more prominent. Frames of still art or simple animation supplemented and eventually supplanted the blocks of text. Rand and Robyn Miller, the creators of Myst, created several earlier games which featured similar point and click gameplay focused entirely on visual exploration, but Myst was the first of their games to be targeted primarily at adults. However, while adults were their primary audience, they intended for the game to be playable by all people regardless of age.

Like its predecessors, both visual and text-based, Myst focuses on the exploration of a virtual space. Presented with still frames of detailed three dimensional pre-rendered graphics, the player is able to move through the space between locational nodes by clicking, with each node having paths to other nodes and sometimes other intractable objects.

These objects could take the form of a puzzle or trigger an animation for plot or aesthetic purposes. Unlike many other adventure games, Myst had a very limited inventory system. You could interact with the environment, but few objects could be picked up and carried. Combat was never present in the game, with Rand Miller saying "We wanted to do something that didn't depend on violence," and there are no game-states that result in death of the player-character avatar, with Robyn Miller stating, "No one dies in Myst." The only "losing" states of the game are story endings, making the game exploratory at the player's own pace. The environment is designed as an "open-world" with the player free to explore and revisit locations in any order they please. All of this serves to reinforce the primary mechanic and literary theme of exploration in Myst.


Myst was designed as a true multimedia experience. In addition to the rich visuals and complex environment to explore, Myst also utilized sound effects, sparse music, and ambient sounds. As you explore around the island of Myst and its various ages, you can always hear some sort of sound in the background. This could be the wind in the air, or water flowing, even the sound of fire crackling. Instead of using the kind of music that was common at the time, Myst instead mainly uses sound effects and only uses light ambient music (Collins). As a player entered different areas, or solved the puzzles around the island, different sounds can be heard.

The sound is important in communicating to the player when something has changed in the area, such as a door opening or a lever being pulled. These sound effects would add another layer to help immerse the player in the experience.

Even the sections of live action video have sounds that are important to the game. When opening either the Red or the Blue books, the player is spoken to by one of the two brothers, Sirrus or Achenar. The brothers are fully voiced, speaking their lines themselves instead of text appearing on screen, and the player is required to listen to what they have to say in order to solve the final puzzle of the game.

Along with providing atmosphere for the game, the sound effects used are crucial for solving several puzzles throughout the game (Hudson). The Channelwood Age for example requires careful listening by the player to succeed. On the ground level of the age several water pipes must be re-routed to change the flow of water. However, it is important to listen to which areas a player is able to hear flowing water, and where they cannot. Another example would be several of the puzzles involving the Selenitic Age. One of the requirements to be able to enter in the first place is to solve a small music-based puzzle, adjusting levers according to the sound they make. After entering the age, the main puzzle of the area is based on the different sounds that the environment makes. From a ticking clock tower, to heavy wind, and even a small musical tune, it is necessary to hear these sounds to solve the puzzle. While a player could force their way through, trying every single combination possible until it works, the original intent of the puzzles would be to solve them through the sounds being heard.


Myst is characterized by a features unheard of at the time of its development. One of these is the lack of guidance the game presents to its players. The player is dropped (literally) into the world of Myst with no further prompting, except for a single note on the ground on the path to the library. In Myst and Riven: The World of the D’ni Mark Wolf points out that the term “game” becomes loose when applied to Myst because of the openness of the interactive environment and its multi-linearity.

Wolf continues, saying, “Myst is perhaps better described as a single-user interactive virtual environment; there was no term to cover it at the time, and game was more specific than software.” Myst emerged in a world where many gameplay elements were brand new (in the world of technology at least) and still very much undefined.

The basic gameplay mechanics of Myst involve clicking in one of four directions: right, left, up, or down to navigate around the space. Each frame of view is still, allowing the player to observe, and clicking in a direction gives the illusion of movement about the space as the player travels from frame to frame exploring the world. Some of the objects are interactive, so that when clicked they change the environment and reveal a puzzle, a clue, or the next step in the journey. There are also a few ways to become “stuck” in a space. Each of the two books in the library are traps, holding the two brothers Sirrus and Achenar, the sons of Atrus and Catherine. If the player gives either brother the final page, they will be “stuck” in the book. Alternatively, if they go to Atrus’ world without the necessary page, the player will be trapped there without the key to return. These are a couple of the possible endings for the story, making Myst not just non-linear, but multi-linear.

Because of the freedom the player has in how the story will unfold, the relative autonomy the player is able to act out reflects real life in a way that was just beginning for electronic games. The cryptic and minimal direction creates the opportunity for personal discovery and problem solving for the player.

Graphics and Rendering

The Miller brothers’ Myst took the notion of what a game could look like in 1993 and flipped it on its head by utilizing pre-rendered graphics, a style of making video games that was not very popular but highly effective for presentation. These pre-rendered graphics allow for ease of computer processing and give the right look and feel to the game world. Though Myst is really a simple point and click type of game at its foundation, the absolute polish that went into creating the maps for the game world as well as small intricate details such as screws or buttons or lights are where the immersion lies.

Many games during this time were striving for fully 3D rendered graphics. Myst chose a direction that would suit the majority of gamers’ and non-gamers’ tastes. These pre-rendered graphics meant that much of the environment while playing was static and small objects within the world had interactive features, which could cause bigger animation changes in your playing environment. Because of this ingenious design, it felt almost as though the world you were interacting with held many deep secrets. The Miller brothers also decided to film live action video instead of animated sequences to help sell this immersion and flesh out the narrative of Myst’s story. These video sequences were shot with the brothers as the actors for the characters and then implemented with the newly released QuickTime player.

While the classic version of Myst stands the test of time today, having been released and re-released on several different platforms, some to critical acclaim others less so, there have also been re-masters of the game dubbed as realMyst. The image quality is much higher in realMyst as the real-time rendering of the 3-D models also makes a variety of resolutions possible. realMyst is able to be displayed at varying resolutions from 640 by 480 pixels to 1920 by 1440 pixels (Wolf). The fully rendered graphics definitely require decent computer specs and a lot more resources to run. Ultimately it’s still the same game at heart, but it does not feel quite the same. As Walter Benjamin would have put it, the aura has been altered.

Hardware and Legacy

Myst was released on September 24, 1993 and it revolutionized the gaming industry. Most PC games at the time used a floppy disk, which only contained 2.8mb. Due to the small amount of storage, most games were in black and white. These games were often short puzzles, text adventures, or point and click adventures. Cyan Inc. the developers of Myst, developed a few games before they hit it big.

These games were:
The Manhole (1988), Cosmic Osmo and the Worlds Beyond the Mackerel (1989), and Spelunx (1991). Eventually, Cyan Inc. started using CD-ROMS for their games. CD-ROMS had a storage size of around 700mb. 

 The extra storage space allowed the Miller brothers to make a full adventure with puzzles and many other ways to interact with an environment. When Myst was released, it became a massive hit, and the Miller Brothers became an overnight success. Myst sold well over six million copies, and it was the best-selling PC game until The Sims was released in 2002. The instant success of Myst occurred for a few reasons. One of which was the massive leap in graphics and rendering. Games before Myst usually contained simple graphics and with little to no story. Myst also had gameplay mechanics that were seen on the brothers’ floppy disk games like Cosmic Osmo and the Worlds Beyond the Mackerel. Players who enjoyed point and click games were able to pick up the controls with ease. Another reason for the Miller Brothers’ success was the quality of the story found throughout the game. The player falls from the sky onto an Island. This island was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. There are puzzles scattered all over the island and additional worlds called "ages" to explore as well. Myst caused players to feel like they were a key part of the story, and it compelled many to try it out. Overall, Myst was the big game of its day. It caused individuals who would turn a blind eye to video games to take another look.

Myst became so popular that a dedicated fan base was established. Books, sequels, and the game’s soundtrack were released not too long afterwards. Eventually, Cyan released an online game called Myst Online: Uru Live. Myst Online is an MMO where players would come together in order to explore the world. Not too long after the game was released, Cyan shut down the servers. This let down many players. Cyan would eventually release the source code for the fans, meaning that they could recreate the game and develop their own worlds. A student named Nicholas Watson wrote a thesis about this passing of the torch called Game Developing, the D'ni Way: How Myst/Uru fans Inherited the Cultural Legacy of a Lost Empire.” The main goal of this thesis was to illustrate how Cyan created a “play ecosystem” (13-29).

Even though Myst has been re-released dozens of times across multiple platforms, the core experience is still there. The story, worlds, and characters continue to captivate millions of players to this day. For the past two weeks, we have talked to a few people in our network about this Myst project. We asked them all to give a brief review of the game:

Peter, a software manager at XPO Logistics, said it was the first game that he played.
Pat, a doctor, said Myst brought him and his son closer together.
The final person we talked to was one of our contributing author's mothers who said, “Myst was the first game John and I played together. We struggled through all the puzzles. Some puzzles were so difficult that John and I took weeks to complete them. This is my favorite game.”

In conclusion, Myst was and still is an amazing game. It revolutionized the gaming industry through its unique story, gameplay, and challenges. We hope Myst will continue to capture the imagination of future players as it did ours.


Works Cited

Carroll, Jon. “Guerrillas in the Myst.” Wired, Conde Nast, 14 Dec. 2017,

Collins, Karen. Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design. Canada Research Chair in Interactive Audio, 2008.

Hutchison, Andrew. “Making the Water Move: Techno-Historic Limits in the Game Aesthetics of Myst and Doom.” Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, 2008.

Wolf, Mark J. P. Myst and Riven: The World of the D'ni. University of Michigan Press, 2011. 
JSTOR, Accessed 27 Mar. 2020.



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