Myst logo Amiga Format Gold

Andy Smith dons his deerstalker and picks up his magnifying glass in an attempt to solve the mystery that is Myst...

Myst is very special. It's not often a game appears, on any format, that manages to completely engage the player, but Myst is just such a game. No wonder then that it's the biggest selling CD-ROM game of all time, having achieved a massive following when it was released for the PC and Mac a couple of years back.

Its crown may well have been stolen now by some PlayStation game or other but it's certainly still something to crow about.

And it's not as if it's the easiest game in the world to get to grips with. Anyone looking for linear structure, simple puzzles and clues aplenty are going to find themselves very frustrated. Myst gives you nothing to start with and expects you to get on with it. Even after several days of playing you're not going to be entirely sure what's going on or what you're supposed to be doing. But let's go right back to the beginning.

Myst is a strange island you find yourself on at the start of the adventure. Quite why it exists is not entirely clear...

This is a point and click adventure, of sorts. You view all of the game's locations from a first person perspective. Interaction with the landscape is achieved by means of a small cursor in the shape of a hand that you move around the landscape. If you want to move forward, place the hand on the screen so it's pointing up. If you want to turn right move it to the right of the screen until it points right. Simple as that. If there's something you can pick up or pull or whatever, then the hand changes so it looks like it's gripping. You don't get much easier than this.

But what's the game all about? That, dear reader, is still a mystery to me. Myst is a strange island you find yourself on at the start of the adventure. Quite why it exists is not entirely clear, but after a couple of hours adventuring you come to realise that there's this character called Atrus who spends his life jumping between different ages and different places, helping the inhabitants (if there are any) and generally enjoying the wonder and beauty of the places he helps to create.

Something's gone wrong in paradise though, and Atrus suspects one of his two sons, Sirrus or Achenar, of not only meddling with things they shouldn't but of actually destroying times and places that Atrus has lovingly built.

Confused yet? You will be, my friend. You have no clues to start with, either to what's going on or what you're supposed to be doing. After a bit of wandering around you'll suddenly start to get an idea of what's happening. A scrap of paper here leads to searching a room there which reveals a clue to somewhere else.

Before you know it, you're immersed in the whole bizarre world of Myst. But don't expect it to be easy. Not only is it generally vague, but a lot of the puzzles are really quite tricky. Miss some tiny detail and you could be wandering around for days going over the same old ground again and again. This is possibly the only real disappointment with Myst, but even that's forgivable once you're aware that it plays this kind of tricks on you.

Let's take the scrap of paper as an example. After a couple of minutes on the island you'll find the paper that explains that there's an important message to be read on the 'imager' that's to be found in an ante-chamber next to your starting location. Fair enough, let's head there then.

Right, we're in the ante-chamber and we've found what can only be the imager. Several speculative clicks on the thing have got it to do a couple of odd things, but there's no recognisable message coming forth.

Before you know it, you're immersed in the whole bizarre world of Myst. But don't expect it to be easy...

A more detailed look round the room reveals a not on the wall by the stairs. The paper tells us to input the number of marker switches on the island into the imager to reveal the message. First of all, what's a marker switch? Second, how do you input the number (which for argument's sake let's say is eight)?

Right next to the note on the wall, on the top left corner, is a small button. You'd miss this if I didn't tell you - trust me. Click on this and the note moves to reveal a panel where you can input numbers. Enter the number eight, go back to the imager and click on the right button (you really can't miss this) and suddenly the message comes through, and now you're off.

This kind of thing doesn't happen that often but it does teach you to be very observant when you're in a location and to click on everything. This can, however, be time consuming when you see how detailed some of the locations are.

Don't, whatever you do, let that put you off. I merely want to illustrate that you have to play Myst carefully and with some effort. As the instructions point out, you have to play as if you're really there and, though this may be stretching things a little, it's worth bearing in mind.

...You have to play as if you're really there... Myst is intriguing, addictive and thoroughly gorgeous...

Myst is intriguing, addictive and thoroughly gorgeous to look at, although I had a few problems getting the game to run on the A1200 in the office (solved with a patch downloaded from a website) and it needs a whopping 8Mb of fast RAM.

However, it's still one of the best adventure games to have been released on the Amiga. Even if you're not really interested in adventuring, you'll find Myst to be thoroughly engaging. The clever and subtle way the game reveals its secrets makes it hard to leave and the way the whole story is woven together makes you keen to learn more.

Just as one piece of jigsaw falls into place you find there are half a dozen more pieces that don't seem to fit anywhere. And don't for a minute expect to be stuck on the island of Myst. You'll be off all over the place, sometimes without really wanting to.

Myst is not really a game for the novice. Although the puzzles are largely logical, it does take a bit of common sense to make head and tail of them. You don't have to be Einstein to get through the game but it's unlikely you'll understand what you're supposed to be doing if you're thicker than two short planks (which you're not because you're reading AF) or a complete beginner when it comes to adventure games.

You're also going to need a notepad and pen to remind you of important clues, which may be aural as well as visual, and be prepared to sit and think situations through. If you are, and you certainly should be, and if you've got a machine with a high enough spec to run the game properly, then you should search for a copy of Myst as soon as you can.

As for me, I'm off to find what's so important about January 17, 1207, 5:46am. Suggestions on a postcard please

Myst logo

What more can be said about the best-selling CD-ROM game of all time except that it's finally here?

I remember the excitement in the air when the hoax Myst demo was shown at the Montreal Amiga Convention in the summer of 1996 - on a PAWS portable Amiga, no less. The prevailing mood as we stood there and boggled was that it must be a hoax - but at the very least it was a proof of concept. An AGA Amiga could very well run the game that's kept millions glued to their monitors. Now, nearly a year and a half later, ClickBOOM's development team has made Amiga Myst a reality.

By now, after the months of build-up in this magazine as well as the years of coverage in the popular media, everybody has at least a vague idea of what Myst is all about. It's some sort of graphical adventure. The spartan documentation isn't much help either - it's safe to say that the box tells you more about the actual "purpose" of the game than the CD case booklet does.

Part of the purpose of Myst is that it's a game of exploration. It wouldn't be unfair to say it is about solving a mystery or two. That makes it unfair for both of us if I give you a complete plot summary, but it is worth knowing that the experience of Myst revolves around a man named Atrus and his rather unusual books.

Atrus is an avid scholar and scientist - a true renaissance man. It's often said a good book that it makes you feel like you're in a different time and place - but Atrus' books really DO take you to a different time and place. That's how you wound up, disoriented and aimless on the seemingly deserted island of Myst. A catastrophe has befallen Atrus and most of his books - but some remain, waiting to be discovered by you, to transport you to other lands where you can piece together the information and evidence you need.

For you, the player, you have only the mouse at your disposal. Myst is completely driven by graphics - the ultimate GUI. Unlike other game which have attempted this (Sierra in particular), there is no complex inventory management to deal with. In general, objects you can pick up are for very specific, one-off uses - you don't need to wonder if you'll need that match you just picked up in two hours.

Myst does revolve around puzzles, but they're typically not of the "Use object X on object Y" variety. Rather, you have to learn, read, record and interpret what you see around you and can cull from Atrus' record, and then figure out how it might be relevant to a particular roadblock.

What's the fuss, then? All of this might sound a bit pedestrian to you, or at the very least nothing that should have made millionaires out of its authors. And I'll warn you right now - for the first five minutes you play Myst, you may well come to that conclusion. Click forward, flip switch, click forward, ho hum. Particularly if you're in a rush, or haven't approached the game with an open mind, it's entirely likely that your first impression will be negative. Mine was, both when I first played the game on a PC a couple of years ago and when I got the ClickBOOM preview.

But then I sat down, cleared my schedule, and gave Myst a real chance.

Then, I started to like it. It really started to suck me in - not quite so much with the graphics, although they are nice. It was the music and sound effects that really did it. So often when a game author is trying to create an engrossing environment, they forget to stimulate as many of your senses as they can. Without tactile feedback and Smeel-O-Vision, Myst does a very good job of bringing you into Atrus' world.

It was Atrus himself who put the finishing touches on my conversion. When you find his writings and records, you really get an insight into this man, and why you should feel compelled to do what's right in his name. (That and there's not much of a game if you don't.). When I'd read his work and examined his drawings, and then tried paging through one of his obliterated books, I actually felt a certain pang of loss and disappointment when all I got were hopelessly destroyed pages. Myst has this funny way of making you care about what's going on.

Of course, the sound and music aren't going to be quite enough to keep you playing for hours and hours. That is where the much-lauded graphics come back into play. No, it's not like playing in a fully detailed 360 degree 3D world. You will find, as I did, that sometimes you feel you should be able to turn to face a certain way and simply can't. In congested areas (forests) this sometimes gets to be annoying and disorienting. But when you do get where you want to be - and even along the way, for that matter - you're treated to some very engrossing imagery.

Again, you can't expect every intermediate "going down the stairs" shot to be an absolute work of art, but there are many locations and rooms in Myst where you should allow yourself a chance to say "Wow. That is really nice." before you start clicking away like mad trying the right button to press.

The worlds of Myst you will visit have their own internal logic, as does the game. Discovering that logic is another part of the joy, along with being an appreciative spectator. The game really does make you think. On the other hand, the global proliferation of Myst means that if you DO get stuck, help is never very far away.

The Amiga implementation
It was a hard a fast requirement of ClickBOOM's conversion contract that the game be virtually indistinguishable from the original, and to that end as much of the original's source material has been used. QuickTime, while perhaps not the optimal choice for Amigas all things considered, is used just as on the PC and Mac versions for the in-game animations. The graphics look the more or less the same - I was sent a PC version of Myst for comparison and can confirm that the Amiga version does indeed have nicer images in some scenes.

The only real difference is that to start the game, you have to make sure your audio and video are properly configured. ClickBOOM chose to use the AHI retargetable audio system for Myst - if you don't already have this installed, not to worry. Myst will handle the details for you. For video, you must first select a screenmode before entering the game. Myst will not automatically detect if this screen is large enough, however - experiment with the most attractive (Super72 or a Double-mode, for example) in high res laced/noflicker and reduce to regular NTSC or PAL if your machine is overly sluggish.

You have the option of installing various pieces of the Myst CD to your hard drive for optimal performance. In the most extreme cases, you can copy virtually nothing but the executable, or essentially the entire CD. I found that audio lost sync with animated video at times on a minimum-spec quad-speed CD - if this happens to you, experiment with installing more data and relying less on the CD.

CyberGraphX support was and is planned for Myst but in order to ensure Christmas delivery it was left off of the CD for final bug testing. A CyberGraphX executable was not available at the time of this review, but will be on ClickBOOM's website shortly.

What does this mean?
The arrival of Myst on the Amiga, even when you ignore the time that's elapsed since the rest of the world got it, is certainly a major event. It's brought a legitimately enjoyable game to our favourite computer and pushed the envelope of system specs a little bit (can you imagine what would have happened just a scant three years ago if you insisted on 8 megs of RAM, AGA or better, and a CD-ROM drive? Madness in the streets!). And with ClickBOOM in serious talks with ID over making Quake their next project, are we seeing a return to mainstream legitimacy for the Amiga as a gaming platform?

The jury is still out on this one, but from my discussions with Alexander Petrovic, producer of the Amiga port of Myst, it seems clear that we should consider Myst as an exception, not a rule. Extraordinary circumstances (the sufficiently eye-catching fake demo) piqued the interest of a developer (Cyan) and Amiga publisher (PXL) sufficiently that a deal could be worked out.

Similarly extraordinary circumstances played a role in the current Quake discussions - the proliferation of technically illegal implementations of Quake on the Amiga due to ID's source code being leaked once again got a lot of attention.

As much as we may like to think so, porting a game from the PC or Mac to the Amiga requires more than sending a case of beer and a stack of source code to a hobbyist Amiga programmer in Sweden. Any project of Amiga Myst's magnitude requires, among other things, extremely strict quality control for an original developer such as Cyan to give it the go-ahead.

So, despite the best intentions of PXL and other aggressive Amiga publishers, it seems that while some doors have been re-opened, there is not bound to be a full fledged re-invasion by those publishers and developers who have dropped Amiga support over the past few years.

What's still the most important fact is that Myst is now here. It is what it has been built up in our minds to be - a groundbreaking game. And it's ours now, too.

"But it's just a slide show!"

If you REALLY insist on treating Myst as a slideshow, go ahead. Open up a graphics viewer and co just through all the pictures on the CD. There's no special encoding to stop you.
I guarantee it'll work. Then, when you've worked that out, double-click the Myst icon and play the game. I guarantee that it is a lot more fun that way.