The parser and the Myst plot hole

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Comments: 23   (latest March 7, 2021)

Tagged: parser, text games, interactive fiction, mistakes, inventory, if, myst

Occasionally someone asks, "Could Myst be done as a parser text game?" Sure! But you wouldn't want the translation to be too literal. Some of the puzzles would be less fun, more difficult, or more tedious when rendered in text form. So it's worth going back to rethink the design.

(Ironically, the sub maze -- Myst's most-reviled puzzle -- would translate pretty well. The relevant clues could be worked into environmental text. Plus, text IF has no movement delays, so if you missed the cues, brute-force mapping would be rather less tedious...)

But the most interesting design question is: do you allow TAKE? Myst is full of objects, but you can't carry any of them except book pages. (And one lit match.) But parser IF is all about the joys of acquisition! Do we stick to the limitations of the original game? Or shall we update the puzzle design to include keys and crowbars and lamps and all those other adventuring tools?

And while I was thinking about that, I realized... huh. The original game missed something.

To recap briefly (and spoilerifically): when you find enough red or blue pages, the evil brothers tell you how to open the secret fireplace compartment. That contains the last red and blue page and the green D'ni linking book. The green book shows you Atrus, who tells you to find and bring him the white page. His copy of the Myst book (his exit from D'ni) was sabotaged, and he needs the white page to fix it.

But in fact Atrus doesn't need the white page! And Atrus should know it! There's a simpler way to free Atrus which has nothing to do with the white page. This alternate solution isn't implemented in the game, but it is absolutely possible according to the logic of the story.

If you feel like solving the puzzle, I'll leave a bit of spoiler space.

The hint, of course, is my digression about TAKE and inventory puzzles.

The protagonist should be able to pick up any of the four linking books from Myst Island, carry it through to D'ni, and plunk it down on Atrus's desk. Atrus detours through Channelwood or Stoneship or whichever, finds the Myst book there, and is home in fifteen minutes tops.

(I guess you can't bring him the Selenitic book, because that exists as a viewscreen image. But the other three work. If you're kind you'll bring him the Mechanical book -- the Myst exit is easiest to reach in that Age.)

Or you could do a more complicated maneuver. Pick up the Stoneship book, link into Mechanical, pick up the Myst book there. Carry that into Stoneship. Now there are two working Myst books in Stoneship, so you can carry one through the other and bring it to D'ni.

This is pretty funny! It's an obvious hole once you look for it. I posed the question on a Myst chat forum, and several people figured it out almost immediately. But as far as I know, nobody has considered it before now. Or if they did, I can't find them writing about it, which comes to the same thing.

Of course, in some sense this is irrelevant. Myst has plenty of unexplained story gaps. (Who scattered the blue and red pages around the Ages? Etc.) And somewhere in the process of Uru development, Cyan retconned the first two games anyhow. They declared them inaccurate adaptations of the "real" (unwritten) events. So mistakes and oversights are off the table.

But I'm amused that generations of players -- including me -- have overlooked the problem, simply because the game establishes so clearly that you can't take books. None of this occurred to me until I started thinking about a parser adaptation of Myst.

I'm not doing a parser adaptation, let's be clear. It's a fun design exercise. I don't even know if I'd want to do the "classical" story (following the original game) or the "canonical" story (no trap books, maybe trips to Haven and Spire).

Those inventory puzzles are tempting, though, don't they? You could have all sorts of brain-hurting fun juggling books into other books. What if some books could only be read in specific conditions? Invisible ink, books that require special lenses, books written in ice or mercury... (I'm happy to invent my own canon here.)

I do insist, however, that linking books be textual. A linking image and a fade-cut works in a visual medium. Touching the page is natural when you have a hand-cursor. But text is different.

You find the book abandoned in dust.

How long has it lain here? You cannot tell. If the cover has been scorched by sun, or battered by rain, it looks only a little worn and cracked. On the front, printed in neat letters, you read the title: MYST.


You pick up the Myst book and gently lay it open in your hand.

The letters are foreign -- but at the same time, you almost understand them. Something about an island, waves lapping at a wooden dock... If you tried to read the page, surely you could make sense of it.


It begins: "You are standing on a wooden dock...

The Dock

...on the shore of a misty sea. The dock runs north along the shoreline. To the west, a metal bulkhead door is set into a steep rocky bank.

To the east, just off the dock, the mast and spars of a small ship rise above the lapping water. The ship itself is thoroughly foundered.


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