Saturday, March 29, 2008

A completely different Myst fan game

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.

Comments imported from Gameshelf

Norfren (Mar 30, 2008 at 12:52 PM):

The start of "Surprise in Minkata" well before Minkata...

It happened in March 2004 that I created five pictures with Povray just for fun and put them to the Guild of Greeters forum to easy the depression brought forth by the second fall of D'ni (click). The reaction was positive and while creating additional pictures it occured to me that these could be joined to a simple point and click adventure. Some simple interactivity was added with Javascript. The ages were slowly growing and growing... Slowly, according to my available free time, it evolved to "My Ages".

On the other hand, I put another pic to - as far as I remember - the Ubisoft Uru forum in February 2004 (click). The D'ni letters in the column are R.I.P. This was the very first picture in a desert. A year later or so I came across with vikike176 (Victoria in real life), a Myst and computer graphics fan, too. We decided to create another simple point'n'click adventure together and using the browser engine. She used Vue for creating pods and pod ages, I used Povray, therefore it was not easy to render pictures in the same style. The result was another small (and unfinished) adventure, among others with a huge desert - in that time Minkata existed only in Cyan's secret plans at most :). Another inspiration came from Spire Age of Myst IV, namely the planet with floating rocks and no solid surface under the clouds, a masterpiece in my eyes. I tried to create a different, but something similar in impression (click). There are some texts in it written in Hungarian, but understanding is not necessary, so these ages have been linked to the above "My Ages" and are available (somewhere) when starting from the original entry point (click). They are disabled when playing via the MOUL forum link.

The "Surprise in Minkata" of the MOUL forum started in October and I used the images made for the my original desert age - a fortunate accidental coincidence with Cyan's Minkata. Originally I planned to finish it before the second season of MOUL would start. As the forum adventure advanced I used more and more images from "My Ages" and had to create new ones or modify old ones, too, to reflect the on-the-fly evolving storyline. This was very time consuming (consider: the last rendering of some images took 1-1.5 hours and in the case of a mistake one had to start over...) and therefore I finally decided to finish it (for the time being) with interactive the Relto book twist of "My Ages".

Norfren a.k.a. Tamas Gunda

Andrew Plotkin (Mar 30, 2008 at 8:36 PM):

Thanks for the history update.

Norfren (May 22, 2012 at 10:30 AM):

Since 2008, the servers and links have been changed. The current link to Norfren's Age is now: The link to the Desert Age (originally pointed to is also dead, no new server has been found so far.



Andrew Plotkin (May 22, 2012 at 5:32 PM):

Thanks (again) for keeping this posted.

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