A completely different Myst fan game

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Comments: 4   (latest May 22, 2012)

Tagged: fanfic, myst, forum games

I have talked a lot about the prospect of Uru players creating worlds after Cyan shuts the game down. But I haven't said much about the fan Myst projects that exist today.

Quite a number have been started over the years; Cyan is generally willing to give permission if you ask nicely. Some exist as small web-based adventures, such as the now-vanished D'ni Legacy. Some are planned as full-scale downloadable games, such as The Ages of Ilathid -- ambitious, but making slow and uncertain progress.

A year ago, in April of 2007, I ran a small game directly on the Uru web forums. Plum Lake was pure text -- because that's what I'm good at, that's why. (Okay, I included one illustration.) I took the standard text-adventure model and ran it interactively. I would post to the forum, describing where I was and what I saw. Then I'd open the floor to suggestions on what I should do next.

My game ran for about two weeks, and concluded satisfactorily. The players reached the end of what I'd designed, and I decided it was an experiment well run.

A few months later, a player called Norfren began running something that comprehensively and conclusively blew my game's pants off.

He began by posting several images notionally captured in the Age of Minkata. Cyan had opened Minkata in May; it was an expansive but barren world, hemmed in by blinding dust-storms. Norfren's images were not actually from Uru, but people were willing to accept them as an extension because they were imaginative and nicely rendered. (Using POVRay, a free ray-tracing package. Some of the images have Uru avatars edited in.)

Over the next couple of weeks, Norfren began describing his journey across Minkata in a first-person, narrative style... and in plural: "we are here, we are doing these things." And the readers played along, describing what they were doing as members of the exploratory party.

By the end of October, the scenario included puzzles and linking books, and the readers were fully engaged -- solving the puzzles and allowing the narrative to advance. They found their way underground, explored a series of aqueducts and tunnels, found a link to an undiscovered section of the D'ni city, and so on.

(Warning: Posts in the forum thread consistently use Javascript spoiler tags to hide both large images and puzzle solutions. However, due to a recent server change, the spoiler tags are currently nonfunctional -- everything is visible up front.)

Throughout this process, the bottleneck remained Norfren's ability to render new art. He could respond to ad-hoc ideas to some extent, but had to provide fairly clear hints about what to do, and occasionally nudge players back into the areas that he was preparing. The players were quite willing to go along with this.

In late December, Norfren posted images on his own web site, in order to accomodate some animated details. In late January he included a 360-degree view, and then a puzzle that responded interactively. And in early February, as we were digesting the news of Uru's cancellation, a complete (if tiny) Age to look around. (Contributed by vikike176, in collaboration with Norfren.)

By the way, I'm focussing on the designer's work here, but don't get the idea that the thread is all his. Most of the text is the player group, poking around, making suggestions, goofing off, adding their own wrinkles to the narrative. Everyone is clearly deferring to Norfren as the "game master" -- nobody is posting their own images of unexplored areas, for example. But the tone of the thread is the players telling their story, not Norfren telling a story to them.

Finally, in March, a puzzle unlocked a fully explorable Age, complete with clues, puzzles, links to other Ages, a maze, and finally a link home to Relto, which resolved the story. I don't know if the author intends to continue, but it's enough of a stopping point for me to blog about it: six months and over 900 posts, including dozens of images.

So what does this tell us?

"Surprise in Minkata" (I have no other title for it) constitutes the biggest chunk of exploration in the Myst universe since Cyan ended its Age releases. The visual quality is not on the level of a modern commercial adventure game; but it's easily comparable with the original Myst, or with other one-man adventure creations like Rhem. I could quibble with the placement of navigation hotspots in the final Age. But, overall, it's effectively a player-contributed Uru episode.

I think that if the game had continued, we would have seen more like this. And with no Uru in operation? The audience is clearly waning, but the most dedicated players remain. We will see what the coming year yields.

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