In 1993, two sons of a traveling preacher unleashed the power of “Myst: The Surrealistic Adventure That Will Become Your World.” Two decades later, it’s time to shine a light into some of the massive fantasy world’s hidden alcoves, and finally give the Strangers of the world—who maybe didn’t sleep so much in the ‘90s—some answers.
1. JULES VERNE PROVIDED THE INSPIRATION FOR MYST, AS WELL AS ITS NAME.
As brothers Rand and Robyn Miller, the game’s creators, told Wired in 1994, Robyn was reading Jules Verne’s novel The Mysterious Island, a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, while developing the game. The book features a group of characters marooned on an eerie islet similar to Myst Island.
2. IT ALSO TOOK CUES FROM THE WORKS OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN AND C.S. LEWIS.
The Millers told the site Adventure Classic Gaming that their childhood love of the complex worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia provided “the seed idea of what it meant to build a deeper fantasy world. Worlds that had history and depth, and even possibly a certain amount of meaning.”
Rand also explained to Grantland that the pair were excited about being “subcreators,” a term of Tolkien’s referring to mortal creators who were themselves created by a higher being. And while the brothers never cited the book as a specific inspiration, Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia novel, The Magician’s Nephew, addresses the consequences of magical travel between worlds.
3. MYST WAS CONCEIVED AS A FANTASY WORLD FOR ADULTS TO EXPLORE ...
After producing the award-winning children’s games Cosmic Osmo and the Worlds Beyond the Mackerel, The Manhole, and Spelunx (for the latter of which Robyn had hand-drawn all of the in-game graphics and scenery), the Miller brothers decided to apply their world-building skills to an adventure game for adults.
They spent months designing Myst’s Ages and created the game’s many buildings and maps before deciding how they’d play into the narrative. As Rand told Grantland, "We're not game designers; we were place designers, so we just started drawing maps, and the maps kind of fueled the story."
4. ... BUT THE CREATORS WANTED IT TO BE ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE.
Despite the difficulty of the game’s puzzles, the Millers wanted anyone to be able to explore Myst’s landscapes, including kids and senior citizens. Robyn told Grantland, "We didn't want there to be an interface that stood in the way of anyone playing that game. We wanted it to be a game that someone's grandmother could play."
5. THERE WAS NO TIME LIMIT, BUT THE GAME WAS MEANT TO TAKE AROUND 40 HOURS.
Myst was designed to be completed by a first-time player in approximately 40 hours of gameplay, and GameFAQ notes that about 63 percent of polled players finished in between 12 and 40 hours (Rand Miller supposedly did it in 2 hours once). The game has no time limit and no ways for the Stranger to die, because the creators wanted players to explore at their own pace—though there are a few ways in which players can fail to "win" the game.
6. THE GAME EFFECTIVELY AMOUNTS TO OVER 2500 INTERACTIVE IMAGES.
Due to the technical limitations of early CD-ROM technology, the Millers decided to make the click-and-drag game engaging by creating a beautifully detailed world for users to explore. Using StrataVision 3D, Macromedia MacroModel, and Photoshop, the Cyan team built a grayscale topographical map, imposed a color map on top of it, and carefully added trees, other objects, and minute detailing. The result was more than 2500 rendered images players could interact with individually.
7. MYST WAS HERALDED AS A RELIGION ...
The Millers described the game as an experiment with "virtual morality." Though both are practicing Christians and may have snuck some Judeo-Christian references—such as a D’ni deity named Yahvo, a Great Tree, a Sacred Stone, and apostolic Writers of Yahvo—into the game, they were surprised by the spiritual effect it had on fans. “I don’t think Robyn and I were trying to make some kind of statement,” Rand told Grantland. “We certainly didn’t have an agenda, but we were trying to say, ‘Well, man, it’s just frivolous if there’s not a little something here.’”
8. ... AND ITS CREATORS WERE LAUDED AS THE NEXT WALT DISNEY.
The creators may have been modest, but Harvey Harrison, who represented the Millers when movie offers rolled in after the game’s release, thought Myst’s impact was much bigger: “These guys are the next Walt Disney, the next Steven Spielberg,” he told Entertainment Weekly. ”These guys are bigger than Spielberg. They’re more like D.W. Griffith, or Eisenstein, or Chaplin. After those artists’ movies, audiences came away knowing that film would be an important part of human culture. That’s how you feel after playing Myst, that this medium is now for real.”
9. ONE AGE CONTAINED A HIDDEN, TREE-MOUNTED ELEVATOR.
In the game’s Selenetic Age, a few players discovered that, by walking all the way around the level’s fish-shaped mazecraft, they could access an elevator and ride it to the top of its supporting tree for a special view of Myst Island (missing it didn’t affect gameplay, though).
10. RAND AND ROBYN MILLER PLAYED MYST’S BAD GUYS, ACHENAR AND SIRRUS.
"We're not really actors, but we didn't exactly have a lot of money or time when it came time to record the videos. So we just did it ourselves," Robyn told Wired. Thanks to a bit of costuming and the noisy style of the video clips, Rand was also able to portray Atrus, the father of the scheming, book-bound Myst brothers.
Robyn also noted that players shouldn’t read too much into the fact that, like Achenar and Sirrus, he and his co-creator are brothers: "People have said, you know, you're two brothers and you wrote this game about two brothers, so that must mean something. To be honest with you, it never occurred to us. That seems dumb, but it didn't. So it probably does mean something, but we don't know what it is."
11. MYST'S SOUND EFFECTS WERE ALSO MADE ONSITE WITH AVAILABLE OBJECTS.
Several of Myst’s sound effects were ad hoc jobs done at the brothers’ Cyan World Headquarters in Mead, Wash. Because the real-life sound of fire doesn’t translate well as a sound clip, the team recorded the sound of a car driving slowly along a gravel driveway to make the island’s boiler fire sound natural. To score the change of squares in the fireplace’s grid, Cyan recorded the sound of air escaping from a compressor tank designed for an industrial-strength staple gun. When the dates change in the planetarium—a.k.a. “the dentist’s chair room,” according to the Millers—players hear a distorted recording of a dental drill.
12. DISNEY ALMOST RE-CREATED MYST ISLAND IN FLORIDA.
In 1999, Disney execs considered turning Walt Disney World’s Discovery Island into an interactive Myst adventure, complete with puzzles, treasure hunting, and the island’s familiar layout of buildings. While a real-life Myst Island didn’t happen, mock-ups of the Disney land that never was still exist.
13. FRUSTRATIONS AMONG GAMERS LED TO THE PARODY GAME PYST.
In 1996, Parroty Interactive released a spoof game that featured actor John Goodman. Pyst allowed users to explore an island that had been trashed by hordes of Myst players.
14. MYST WAS THE "KILLER APP" THAT MADE CD-ROM DRIVES RELEVANT.
Released on CD-ROM for Macintosh in September 1993, Myst was one of the first games to only be available in that format. As the game’s popularity skyrocketed, so did sales of CD-ROM drives and even home computers.
15. MYST WAS THE BEST-SELLING PC GAME UNTIL 2002
Until The Sims took the top spot with 6.3 million games sold in 2002, Myst was the best-selling PC title on record, with 6 million units sold since its 1993 launch. To date, the franchise has sold over 12 million units.