Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Reading Myst for detail

The VR remake of Myst is due out for Oculus Quest on the 10th. I will not be playing it this week because I'm not into VR or Facebook. The updated Myst will be released for other VR platforms and flatscreen PCs in 2021 -- I believe they said "early 2021" -- and I am happily anticipating that. The screenshots look amazing.
(Cyan has walked a painful line insisting that this is not a "Quest exclusive" release. It's just a game that releases on Quest this week, and other platforms at an unannounced future date. My personal theory is that Facebook walked into Cyan's office with a bucket of money and said "Make Myst VR a Quest exclusive!", and Cyan said "Oh, no, we really can't do that," and then there was a lot of pacing and gesticulating, and they wound up with this handwavy compromise where the PC version ships a couple of months later and nobody calls it a Quest exclusive. This is only a theory.)
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to go back and look at how little we know about the Myst story!
The original game does an incredible job of painting a complex story of betrayal with just a few brushstrokes of narration. But it's surprisingly hard to pin down exactly what happened. We know that Atrus trapped his sons in the red and blue books, and the boys trapped Atrus in D'ni... hang on, how did that work? Who was trapped first?
Here, try this puzzle. You've played Myst. Using only your knowledge of the original game, put these events in chronological order:
  • (A) Atrus creates the red and blue trap books.
  • (B) Atrus goes to D'ni and is trapped.
  • (C) Atrus moves four linking books from the library to the protected places on Myst.
  • (D) Atrus records a message to Catherine in the Forechamber imager.
  • (E) Atrus tears pages from the red and blue books and scatters them.
  • (F) Sirrus and Achenar burn the library on Myst.
  • (G) Sirrus and Achenar do something ("used Catherine") to trick Atrus into going to D'ni.
  • (H) Sirrus and Achenar enter the red and blue books and are trapped.
  • (I) Sirrus and Achenar tear one page from Atrus's Myst linking book.
(I've put these in alphabetical order to avoid giving hints!)

Spoilers farther down the post. While you think about it, I'll mention some other recent Cyan news...

A month ago Cyan released a photo-sharing iPhone app called Crowbox. No, it's not a game; it really is a photo-sharing app. It uses peer-to-peer networking. You browse through your photos on your phone, select one, and everybody else standing near you can see it pop up on their phone. That's the whole gimmick. It's free, no ads, with a paid DLC option for extra features (more shareable albums).
Cyan teased this idea last year at Mysterium. Now they're pushing it as ideal for pandemic times -- you can show people your photo album while standing six feet away from them. (Outdoors, preferably, but you know this.)
They also posted an in-character Atrus journal touting the idea, in case you like your marketing ARG-style.

If you're into merch, Cyan has put new mugs, shirt, posters, and other stuff on their company store page. Some of this has art from the upcoming Myst; some spotlights fan artist Lauren Herda. I snagged a couple of mousepads, which are now sold out, ha ha.

Okay! Enough unpaid advertising -- back to the puzzle.
Before you ask: I am not worrying about the retcon introduced in Myst 4, in which trap books are "not real". I know that's the current official canon. But this post is based on what we knew in 1993 when playing the original Myst. All of the remakes (RealMyst, etc) have followed the original storyline and the original texts.
(Will the upcoming Myst also stick to the original texts? Or will the storyline be updated to be closer to the "canonical" story? We don't know! Check fan sites on Dec 11th!)
(Can I just say how weird it is that the "canonical" story of Myst and Riven has literally never been written? All we know is that the games are simplified versions of the "real" story. This is the strangest use of "canon" I've ever run into -- and I've read Faction Paradox. And yet Myst fans are perfectly comfortable with the idea that canon is unknown and unknowable.)

Anyway! Here's my reconstruction of events. I am relying entirely on these transcripts of the speeches found in Myst.
  • (A) Atrus creates the red and blue trap books.
  • (I) Sirrus and Achenar tear one page from Atrus's Myst linking book.
  • (G) Sirrus and Achenar do something ("used Catherine") to trick Atrus into going to D'ni.
  • (F) Sirrus and Achenar burn the library on Myst.
  • (C) Atrus moves four linking books from the library to the protected places on Myst.
  • (D) Atrus records a message to Catherine in the Forechamber imager.
  • (H) Sirrus and Achenar enter the red and blue books and are trapped.
  • (E) Atrus tears pages from the red and blue books and scatters them.
  • (B) Atrus goes to D'ni and is trapped.
Let's go through this step by step.
  • (A) Atrus creates the red and blue trap books.
When you first meet Atrus (looking through the green book), he mentions that he created the trap books long before his sons went bad.
  • (I) Sirrus and Achenar tear one page from Atrus's Myst linking book.
  • (G) Sirrus and Achenar do something ("used Catherine") to trick Atrus into going to D'ni.
  • (F) Sirrus and Achenar burn the library on Myst.
These are the steps of the boys' evil plan. I admit that I'm handwaving; there's no way to tell what order they did these things. It's also completely unclear how they managed to lure Atrus to D'ni. All we know is that "they used their own mother". But note that, at this point, Atrus is still free and has no idea anything is wrong.
(It's easy to imagine that they trapped Atrus first, then went on their library rampage, and then got trapped. Smart evil schemers start by neutralizing the opposition. But we will see that this is not possible! Also, the boys are idiots.)
The next thing that happens is that Atrus discovers the burnt library. His first reaction:
  • (C) Atrus moves four linking books from the library to the protected places on Myst.
The kids are out of sight at this point.
  • (D) Atrus records a message to Catherine in the Forechamber imager.
This message is the most important piece of evidence. In this speech, Atrus says that he just discovered the burnt library; he's moved the four books; he suspects (one of) Sirrus and Achenar but doesn't know where they are.
I'm inferring that Sirrus and Achenar are not yet trapped in the red and blue books. This is not rock-solid. But it seems likely that, investigating the burnt library, Atrus would check the trap books first thing. They must still be empty.
Also, since the message is addressed to Catherine, Atrus doesn't know Catherine has been trapped on Riven! Whatever the boys did in step (G), Atrus is not yet aware of it.
Atrus goes off hunting the boys. After he leaves Myst...
  • (H) Sirrus and Achenar enter the red and blue books and are trapped.
We know this happens now, because:
  • (E) Atrus tears pages from the red and blue books and scatters them.
Atrus has to discover them in order to rip out the pages! Also, when you talk to Atrus in D'ni, he knows everything that's happened. He knows the boys are trapped and that they're guilty. So they were trapped first.
(Also note that both Sirrus and Achenar's stories to you involve Atrus trapping them, then going off to die or disappear. They are of course both feeding you crap, but they're consistent on this point.)
Now, finally, Atrus gets some news about Catherine that makes him rush off to D'ni. (Very likely, Sirrus and Achenar slipped him one final whopper while he was tearing their pages out.) So:
  • (B) Atrus goes to D'ni and is trapped.
Presumably he expects to meet Catherine there, finds nobody, tries to link home, and discovers that his Myst book is borked. And that's where he is when the game starts.
How did you do? If you'd asked me this in 1993, I would have gotten it all badly wrong! After playing the original game, I was sure that:
  • After Atrus made the Forechamber recording, he rushed off to D'ni and got trapped.
  • The boys went on a spree after trapping Atrus. They burnt the library, ran around looting for a while, and then trapped themselves.
Neither of these ideas is supportable at all. If I'd sat down and gone through it (like I have here!) I would have straightened it out. But I didn't do that until a few months ago. The game just lays out a few notes and lets you connect them up; and that's fine. No puzzle depends on you understanding this stuff.
(I mentioned back in August that there should be easier ways to free Atrus -- by picking up linking books and carrying them to D'ni. Of course the game has no notion of picking up books. So nobody thinks about this. I didn't think about it for 27 years.)
(Then there's a whole question of how Sirrus and Achenar sabotaged the Myst book. I'm not even getting into it.)
That's all for tonight. If you've got a Quest, enjoy your shiny-new graphics on Thursday. Let us know how it goes.

3 comments:

  1. Corrections! (You knew I wasn't going to get this *completely* right...)

    I/G (the boys laying the trap) are really pretty unconstrained. They could have done it anywhere in the timeline before they got trapped. (And after (A), which is definitely first.)

    That is, while Atrus is recording the imager message, Sirrus and Achenar could be off sabotaging his Myst book. They could even do it later, while Atrus is running around trying to find them. And setting up "luring Atrus to D'ni" is a complete unknown, so we can't say much about it.

    Upshot: feel free to slide I and G around, anywhere between A and H.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think your chronology makes about as much sense as is possible out of these events.

    The part that seems the most implausible from the original game is how the brothers sabotaged the Myst linking book in D'ni and then got back to Myst. There don't seem to be any exits other than via linking book. Now as we learned in later games that room does have exits after all, they could have left with a Myst linking book and sealed off the room somehow.

    Another question would be how long Atrus was in D'ni after he was tricked into going there. If it's just one room, he would quickly return after learning Catherine's not there (or if she was there, that there was no need for him to come as he was led to believe). But again, knowing as we now do how much larger D'ni is than it was portrayed in the original game, he could've been gone for quite a while searching for Catherine.

    After playing Riven, I assumed that Catherine was lured into going to Riven by Atrus's sons in order to save the Moiety, which would certainly motivate Atrus to go there to try to prevent her capture by Gehn and then Atrus linked back from Riven to Myst after failing to rescue her, which is when the Myst book fell into the void and comes to you at the beginning of Myst. Then between the time the book falls through the void and you find it, Atrus gets trapped. I think that would be a better plot resolution than having him be tricked into going to D'ni (in which case, at what point did he leave Riven and drop the book through the void)?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think the opening narration of Myst is meant to be much earlier. In the novels (which we don't have to consider, but might as well check) Atrus trapped Gehn and lost the Myst book before his sons were born.

    The sabotage problem... well, my best speculation is that one of the boys went to D'ni with a *second* Myst book, tore one page out of Atrus's, and then returned home using the old trick of "hold the book over a bonfire before touching the page." Or maybe they held it over the lake, and let the water ruin it.

    (Why tear out only one page from Atrus's book, instead of burning the whole thing? Because the D'ni linking book shows the desk in that room. If the return book was missing from the desk, Atrus might have been suspicious and not entered.)

    This is all speculation, though. It's also possible that the linking book was stored *on Myst*, and the boys sabotaged it there. Then Atrus grabbed it and linked through to D'ni without checking its integrity. For this theory, though, you'd have to stipulate that it was Atrus's first trip to D'ni -- or at least to that island in D'ni. (Because otherwise there'd be a book stashed there already.) Seems implausible.

    ReplyDelete