The history of Myst

Ars Technica just published a wonderful interview with Rand Miller. He was a co-creator (with his brother Robyn) of Myst, a groundbreaking adventure game originally released in the 1990s.

I’ve never been a great gamer; I really admire the craft and skill of creating games but I rarely seem to have the patience, persistence, or problem-solving skills to truly engage with them in a meaningful way. But that wasn’t the case with Myst.

I remember the first time I saw it: when I was (maybe?) 8, I went to my Dad’s office with him one day (I can’t remember why). In the evening, as people were heading home and I was following him out the door, I saw a couple of his coworkers gathered around one of their chunky, oyster-grey desktop Macs. One of them was playing the game, while a few others looked over his shoulder. Dad and I stopped to watch a moment and I was glued to the floor, completely transfixed. The landscapes I saw, and the eery, beautiful sound design blew me away. There was a story being told here, but it wasn’t being fed to you in a linear way as a book or film would do. Instead it offered an open space to explore with its own history that you needed to uncover on your own.

This was my first experience with non-linear narrative, and it made me think about software in a whole new way.

I’d played plenty of video games before that day, but they’d been mostly limited to platform-jumping, obstacle-avoiding console games. Myst was very different. It had very little animation — owing to technical limitations — but its creators had used this as a design choice, creating this wonderful sense of stillness and quiet throughout the game. You were invited to move around slowly, and take in all the details. The graphics were so rich and beautiful that it was worth stopping to examine every scene. There were no pitfalls or enemies to avoid. You couldn’t really “die” or “fail” because of a mistake (aside from one point near the end of the game). Instead, the challenge was to solve puzzles and connect the dots between all the different elements you encountered in each world. Your reward was, simply, another chapter of the story, and therefore more amazing things to see.