Sunday, August 16, 2020

The parser and the Myst plot hole

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.


  1. Well, you can add some whooosh! or a puff of orange powder, or something as a special effect. You know, IF has plenty of teleportation devices... probably you have some of them in your sleeve :)

  2. > You could have all sorts of brain-hurting fun juggling books into other books.

    You may enjoy this one puzzle game called Recursed, which is about chests that contain rooms, which you can move into and out of other rooms...

    Anyway, story-wise, one could argue that Atrus doesn't know where the white page is, and without it, he'd be forced to abandon one of the worlds in D'ni. Still, it'd be easier for him to search for it with you.

    1. I scrolled down to the comments to say "You should check out this game called Recursed" but hey...

      I never considered the similarity between Myst and Recused until this moment.

  3. The problem is that (a) Atrus *should* know where the white page is, because he built the market vault that it's in. (In the game he never specifies whether he knows where it is or not! Like much else, it's left unspecified.)

    And (b) it's not actually abandoning one of the Ages. It's still reachable; you just have to take a detour through another Age first. None of the maneuvers I describe above leave a world out of reach.

    (Here's another one, BTW: Pick up the green D'ni book from the fireplace. Take it through to Mechanical. Put down the green book, pick up the Myst book, link to D'ni, hand Atrus the Myst book. Again, nothing gets cut off.)

    1. Do we know that Atrus build the marker vault? He built the markers, but couldn't his sons have hacked them to create the vault?

  4. As for recursive games, the one I'm waiting for is Patrick's Parabox.

  5. Wow, your text rendering of Myst gave me chills!

  6. "I'm not doing a parser adaptation, let's be clear."

    I thought you already did, and called it So Far. ;-)

    Well, I guess not. I haven't played that game since it was released, but I vaguely remember either getting a very Channelwood-ish vibe when playing So Far, or a very So Far-ish vibe when reaching Channelwood. I wonder which it was.

  7. At the least, send this info to Cyan and see what they might say.

  8. Woah. The description at the end gave me a flashback to:

    You stand on the edge of The Docks -- a mazy expanse of piers, wharfs, warehouses -- all of low character. Surely not all of Mezzohusse is this unprepossessing? But this is where you must begin.

    I'm not even sure how I remember that post. Whatever happened to that game demo you working on?

    1. I work on a lot of game prototypes, and unfortunately, most of them go nowhere.

      (But keep on eye on this blog on the 22nd! Got something that will actually be finished!)

  9. So it turns out I'd forgotten to check the "Notify me" box when I made my comment; I only came back here because I just read your storyline quiz. Oops.

    I think we can therefore deduce that Atrus does indeed not know where the missing page is (since otherwise he'd have collected it after trapping Sirrus and Achenar).

    And yeah, I suppose it's not technically abandoned in that the directed network of Ages is still strongly connected. I suppose I did indeed mean that you would need detours.

    I was actually asked to test a beta of Patrick's Parabox a while back. It's pretty good, and I'd recommend it as-is. I think both Patrick's Parabox and Recursed capture the feeling of bringing linking books into other books, but Patrick's Parabox does a more faithful job of recreating this due to Recursed's "rooms reset when you exit them" mechanic. However, due to the presence of exits being too high to climb back up to, Recursed might more mimic the "bring another linking book with you to escape" situation described in the post. Generally, Patrick's Parabox's puzzles are easier than those of Recursed.

    I personally recommend Recursed more highly of the two. YMMV, though, so play them both.

    1. Entirely by coincidence, I started playing Recursed last night. Yep, it's good! Although, is there a way to tell how much of the game I've completed? I have a bit of negative reaction to games where this is unclear or misleading.

      I played the demo of Patrick's Parabox that's up on Steam, and I'm looking forward to the full release.

    2. Once you unlock the third world, the Nexus chest at the first world will open, giving you a quick way to access worlds and a thus rough idea of how far you're done.

      If you want a count, there are a total of 64 levels in the main game, with 36 levels in the two expansion packs.

  10. I watched a few clips from the new VR Myst update, and I was amused to see that they've fixed this hole! All of the linking books are now bolted down. (So are the red and blue books.)

    I don't know whether Cyan saw this post before making that design change. If so, that's my contribution to the Myst legendarium. :)

    1. Interestingly, they also changed the safe in the cabin to contain a button that ignites the furnace! So the "lit match" you mentioned in your post is no longer a takeable item.

  11. I have no idea how I haven't read this blog post before! (Or maybe I have, and forgot.) Because I have, in fact, started a parser text version of Myst!

    Or, well. I don't necessarily plan to make it a full game (although, who knows where it'll go); it's mainly a fun design exercise, as you say, to try to "retcon" Myst to fit with the later lore. Since Prison Books don't actually exist in the Myst universe, this changes the entire premise and main puzzle of Myst (you can't communicate with Sirrus/Achenar/Atrus through the books!), so that's what I've been having a go at. (As well as adding living quarters and other elements to the expanded Myst Island, as Cyan has stated that it was "pared down" for the game.)

    We'll see how it goes. But let me know if you're doing a parser adaptation after all! I'd hate to steal your idea if I ever decided to expand it from a prototype of an alternate Myst Island puzzle. (As you said, the other Ages would also be interesting in a parser, like the Selenitic maze.)

    I have to say, though, I find it pretty shocking that nobody seems to have made a parser adaptation of Myst in the almost 30 years it's been out. Someone seems to have started one once, but I'm not sure what became of it:

    1. Oh, I'm not tackling this idea for real. Feel free to do yours!

      I have to admit that, while I'm amused by the Great Trap Book Retcon, I've kind of lost patience with it too. Cyan has released what Rand Miller called the "definitive edition" of Myst, and it's got trap books. I'd rather talk about the games as they exist than a phantom "canon" which obviously never will.

      That said, there's no reason for a new adaptation to stick to the published games either. There's always an opportunity to rethink.

    2. Yeah, there's a lot of stuff that could be added to a "rethought" Myst game, apart from the Trap Book Retcon and the added living quarters I mentioned. According to Cyan there were actually several other "places of protection" on the island, for the Linking Books that were destroyed by Sirrus and Achenar (including, presumably, for J'nanin and Serenia, two Myst-era Ages that were seen in later games). We know the names and nature of some of those Ages, so there's a lot of potential for expansion.