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Myst Online: Uru Live Again

I know, I'm supposed to be all on top of Myst news. But I've slacked on this post, which is the post where I tell you that Myst Online is back online, totally free (but Cyan is accepting Paypal donations).

Everything takes longer than expected these days. Cyan Worlds' plans are to move MO:UL to open source, and we finally have some good news. We've taken a first step and started a MO:UL server, so the Ages of Uru are available again. We've opened all the Ages, and added most of the goodies in MO:UL. We're referring to it as MO:ULagain - feel free to explore and enjoy.

-- from Cyan's Play Myst Online page


Why the blogslackery? Three reasons:

  • The game went up Monday (Feb 8th), but I didn't find out until Tuesday (thanks brasslantern). This is embarrassing to my reputation as a Myst fanboy.

  • It's the 21st-and-a-tenth century, and you don't need this blog to find stuff out. It was all over the gaming news sites. I twittered it.

  • More to the point: the new MOUL system is way the hell overloaded, and the game experience is lousy. The forums are filled with workarounds for the hassles of downloading the client, registering, logging in... (These are all distinct bottlenecks.) Oh, and playing on a Mac takes some hacking too. So I can't wholeheartedly recommend that you jump in and try it.

I got in briefly on Wednesday night, and ran into frequent short freeze-ups -- my client would freeze for a few seconds at a time, randomly, over and over. (Even during loading screens and avatar creation.) Many people were complaining about this Wednesday; I don't know if it's improved. I have exactly the same OS and video hardware as I did three years ago (upgrade an old XP machine? Unpossible!) so it's just some combination of bad server engineering and bad client engineering. Cyan promises they're upgrading the servers -- for the second time since Monday -- so things may improve next week.

EDIT-ADD: The freeze-ups seem to be fixed now. --Z

So today's question is not "Why aren't you playing Myst?" It is, rather, "Why is Myst being crushed?"

There was no announcement in advance, but Cyan's in-character actors did stir the pot last week. That got all the fans quivering (yes, including myself) but it wasn't much.

After all, this game has been out of service for almost two years. It has nothing new to offer: the last completely new Age in Myst Online opened in August of 2007, and the last glimmer of new content was at the end of that year. If you'd asked me, I would have said a couple hundred die-hard fans would swarm in and hang out for old time's sake. Cyan apparently guessed the same.

On Wednesday, Richard Watson of Cyan posted, "We have roughly 3,000 people all trying to get the data."

That's a "holy crap" moment. Three thousand people checking out a game that's been cancelled twice.

My estimate (based on the way neighborhood groups are assigned) was that 600 avatars had logged into the game by Wednesday night. I hear it's around 2000 by now. That's with all the download and server problems.


So now what?

As I quoted above, Cyan wants to open-source Myst Online. They announced that in December of 2008. It hasn't happened yet; it's still a proprietary system.

The players, as always, are way ahead of the company. People have working on home-built Myst ages since the first iteration of Myst Online was cancelled. It's a set of hacks built on Cyan's source code, and Cyan is -- at best -- looking the other way. There are some established channels for asking Cyan's blessing to work on Myst content, but I'm not sure how reliably they're followed -- on either side.

In a chat on Tuesday, Rand Miller said: "Our goal is to get some ages from new writers in here." But if they've done any serious planning towards that goal, we haven't heard about it. Back in 2008, Cyan posted a rough roadmap for player Ages. I wrote extensively on ways that it could work. It's all been handwaving so far.

I don't want to seem negative. We have much uncertainty, but uncertainty isn't bad at this stage. True, "this stage" has lasted for a painfully long time -- I mean, we've been hearing "open source" for almost two years now, and we haven't gotten any -- but it's good to see that Cyan has the resources to run a server. They're not dead. Their MagiQuest Online contract is presumably paying off, and they're making progress on projects like iPhone Riven.

So, I guess we work, play, hope, and wait. Familiar territory. But it's better than just hoping and waiting.

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