Next year it will be 30 years since Myst was released. It has been 25 years since Riven – and 25 years without Riven getting the sequel it deserves.
It’s not surprising. The first Myst was a little game. You were in a little world made up of littler worlds. You solved little discrete puzzles. It felt huge because graphical personal computers were new – and most were not connected to a network. Linking Books were just hypertext; Ages were just other people’s sites: Myst was a graphical simulation of the internet.
(Cf. a modern game whose offline mode seeks to create the illusion of online multiplayer – like the NPC summons or permanent messages in Dark Souls.)
And: most of Myst’s little puzzles were not intrinsic to the world. Want to open this door? First you have to solve this Rubik’s Cube. There’s no necessary correlation between the operation of the door and the Rubik’s Cube. But without the Rubik’s Cube there would be no gameplay, and without the door there would be no feeling of exploration. It worked because it was only 1993.
Four years later came Riven.
Riven was not just another Myst. Rather than a conglomeration of real-world aesthetics, it was an entire alien world built from scratch. It sure was alien to you. You had no context. And so you had to build one, through exploration. Where am I? What do I have to do? Is that thing a door? How do I open it? Wait – where does it go and should I go there? After days of wandering and observing and thinking, you piece it all together. You learn the writing and counting system of the people of this world. Which lets you turn on the power to the elevator. Which lets you bring the story to its conclusion. The puzzles are not just Rubik’s Cubes, they are intrinsic to the things of the world. But the greatest puzzle is the world itself – and by the end, you have solved it.
Then they outsourced a game called Myst III. You were presented with a series of discrete little worlds and discrete little puzzles. You were given a backstory about how these worlds were created with natural puzzles. You know: for educational purposes. Less a backstory than a cover-story for dull design. After Riven, it was a step backwards. Mysts IV and V did even less, and the series died.
Mysts III through V were, in short, just new Mysts. Whereas Riven built upon Myst – took it to the next level – in a way which few games still come close to matching.
What, then, would be a sequel to Riven? What would build upon Riven as Riven built upon Myst?
Myst III had the idea of this. The whole conceit of the game was to navigate Ages that were created specifically to teach the art of Age-making. But you never get to make an Age yourself.
What a wonderful thing that would be. And, moreover: what a wonderful progression. In Myst you solved puzzles in a world; in Riven you solved the world itself; in the next game, you would solve the making-of-worlds. You would make a Linking Book. For to put it another way: in Myst you learned to speak the language of discrete puzzles; in Riven, you learned to speak the language of a world; in the next, you would learn to speak the language of worlds themselves.
You would become a game designer – from within the game.
One Age could teach you to build levels; another, physics; another, interfaces; until the final Age test you by building a stable world, within certain parameters, to achieve a specific story objective. It would be like taking a series of modules in a game engine, ending with a project where you proved that you had learned. But each module would be an Age you could explore.
The feeling of designing a world from within that world would be nothing short of the feeling of practicing magic – the same magic that we felt when we finally solved Riven; the same magic we felt when we first played Myst. I would like to play this game. Thirty years after meeting him, and running around his little worlds: I would like a game that would let me be Atrus.
Call it D’ni: The Sequel To Myst And Riven.