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RealMyst Masterpiece Edition

The updated RealMyst is now up on Steam (for Mac/Win). It also appeared on the Mac App Store briefly yesterday, but Cyan pulled it back out citing "a small issue". (It's not clear what the issue is, or if the Steam release has the fix already.)

(Screenshots from an iMac, 2.7GHz, lots-o-RAM, AMD Radeon HD 6770M 512 MB. I don't know a damn thing about video cards but maybe that means something to you.)

As you can see, this "Masterpiece Edition" is very shiny. I don't have the original (2000-ish) RealMyst around to take comparison screenshots, but you can internets it.

(To settle one issue for good -- this app still uses the Unity3D engine. Cyan's upcoming game Obduction is planned to be Unreal Engine 4, so there was some speculation that RealMyst would be ported to Unreal, but nope.)

(Apropos of this -- Starry Expanse, the ongoing fan remake of Riven, just announced that it would be switching to Unreal.)

Anyhow. The new RealMyst has nicer textures, a bit more model detail, and some lighting effects such as bloom and dynamic shadows. Most blatantly, it has a lot more sun/moon/clouds environmental shifting. All the Ages (I think) have a day-night shift, which cycles in real time as you play. Sunset on Myst Island was terrific.

Oh, and you have a flashlight. Hit F to switch it on and off. I don't know whether they added the flashlight because the night-phase is so dark, or if they deliberately dropped the ambient lighting to make the flashlight more fun. It works pretty well, anyhow.

(No, I haven't yet checked to see how the flashlight interacts with Stoneship's illuminate-the-dark-tunnel puzzle. I kind of hope your flashlight just flickers and dies in that Age.)

Performance was pretty good for me at the default settings. (The interior of the Mechanical fortress gets a bit draggy, as others on Cyan's forum have noted.)

I'm somewhat less happy with the interface. It's WASD keyboard control, with mouse-look active if you hold down the right button or if you're walking. (It took me a good long time to figure out that you don't have to hold down the right button while you walk.) When you're standing still, the mouse moves the cursor around instead. (As well as the flashlight beam.) Click and drag on things in the usual Myst style.

Maybe I'm over-familiar with the Uru control setup, but this feels really awkward. Something about the mode-switch -- right button versus walking -- is hard to get used to. I flail trying to look around, and then I navigate tight corridors like a long barge rowed by short mammoths. I dunno. I didn't have this problem with the iPad version.

If it's really unbearable, you can switch back to original-Myst-style node-and-hotspot navigation. But is there anybody left in the universe who wants node-and-hotspot navigation, except as a workaround for clumsy 3D UI?

(Mind you, I'm a terrible judge of what's popular. From the mainstream point of view, I'm a hardcore gamer. Scary, right? So maybe I should shut up about what everybody wants.)

Anyhow. This post is just an excuse to post the shiny screenshots, and I've done that, so you're on your own now. Eighteen US bucks.

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RealMyst update news

Twenty years ago yesterday, Myst showed up on store shelves for the first time. Not a bad start to an era.

Myst-related news has been thin recently, but Cyan took the anniversary opportunity to announce that they're working on a new update of the classic game: RealMyst Masterpiece Edition. Their news post includes three preview screenshots.

Myst has been ported and reimplemented a bunch of times. If you've lost track, here's a very incomplete history:

  • 1993: Original game ("slideshow-style"), on CD-ROM
  • 2000: Myst Masterpiece Edition (same style, but higher-res renderings)
  • 2000: RealMyst (3D environment, free movement, added "epilogue" Rime Age)
  • 2009: Myst for iOS
  • 2012: RealMyst for iOS (using the Unity engine)

This new version presumably also uses Unity, building on the work they did last year. However, it will target desktop machines (Mac/Win) and look much nicer. As is Cyan's recent habit, they will offer an option of free movement or fixed-node navigation. (See additional notes in a Facebook post.)

I confess that I can only get so excited about yet another Myst re-release. Better news: Cyan has continued to drop hints about an upcoming Kickstarter project -- unrelated to the Myst series, and possibly appearing in the next few weeks. (No primary source here, but see this forum thread.)

Finally, I'll note that the Starry Expanse people gave a nice demo at Mysterium in August. This is the fan "RealRiven" project that's been in progress for several years now. They released a tech demo last year, showing one of Riven's islands. They now say they have all of the islands in progress, although at early stages yet. A long video of their talk is up on youtube; jump to 08:30 to see some juice.

And finally... did I already do "finally"? This'll be "one more Myst-related thing", then. My Seltani project continues to move along. I've added three small Ages in the past month: Caelios, Fleuven, and the Endless Cave.

All three rely on the same sort of procedural text-generation that I've been using in IF for years. (In fact, the Endless Cave is a direct port of the "maze" area from Hunter in Darkness.) If you're curious how these tricks are accomplished, look at the Ways of Printing documentation page on the Seltani wiki, and then the Endless Cave source code.

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Riven news post

The Mystery Hunt is over, after a record-breaking 73 hours. I was pretty much out of solving juice by Saturday afternoon. Sunday night, I tried to help out with an invisible-ink puzzle, and wound up setting the puzzle on fire.

Okay, not on fire as such. It was lightly browned, but the invisible ink wasn't any browner. So much for that. Anyhow, that was my Hunt weekend. Congratulations to the winners, Team [text not available due to copyright restrictions]! Let's talk about something else. Myst news!

First: release of a new Riven for iPad app. You could already play the iPhone Riven port, but this has higher-quality graphics. (Also, as you might guess, a larger download size and another couple of dollars on the price tag.) I took screenshots, in case you feel like comparing:

(Original Riven for iOS on the left, displayed 2x to fill the iPad screen. New Riven for iPad on the right.)

If you want a more modern Riven experience, check out the new tech demo of Starry Expanse. (Mac/Win builds available.) Starry Expanse is a fan-built reimplementation of Riven using Unity. It's still very much in process -- this demo covers just a small segment of one island -- but it gives you the sense of what a true 3D RealRiven could be like. It's got a day-night cycle (highly accelerated for effect), cloud and water effects, and a circling bird. You can ride the elevator up, and even open the spinning dome (vs lbh trg gur gvzvat evtug; pyvpx gur ivrjre ohggba jura gur tbyq flzoby fcvaf cnfg).

Finally, Cyan has posted their Making of Riven video (Facebook video link, GameTrailers video link). This was included on the fancy-extra DVD release of Riven -- I don't think I ever saw it. (Still haven't, actually, as I write this.)

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RealMyst for iPad

As promised, Cyan's port of RealMyst for iPad has just hit the iOS App Store.

It requires an iPad 2 or the new (third-gen) iPad. Cyan's original promos also promised support for the newest iPhone, but apparently they couldn't make that work, because it ain't there. The planned price is ten bucks, but they're doing a launch sale at seven. So snag it now, if you're into buying Myst a lot. (We recall that the original flat-image Myst appeared for iPhone/iPad in 2009.)

It's very pretty -- of course; albeit with the slightly simplified RealMyst world. (The original Myst allowed arbitrarily detailed images, but a 3D engine has to count polygons.) This is probably at the limit of what the newest iPad can handle. Load times between Ages are pretty awful, and even moving between rooms induces a second or two of delay to load new textures. However, that aside, walking and looking around are quite smooth. The skies and ripple-animated water look fantastic. The only missing graphical element (so I am told) is the day-night lighting cycle in some of the Ages.

(And, may I say, the new iPad has a fantastic display. Go ahead, click through to the full-sized screenshot. 2048x1536, baby, and you can just spin around like an acrobat.)

The interface is good; I wouldn't say it's perfect. The basic model is "touch to walk, drag to turn, tap to interact." The gestures are blurry, however. If you try to walk (touch-and-hold) but your finger slips a little, it gets recognized as a drag, and you just turn very slightly while standing still. This is extra-confusing because you're used to being able to turn and walk at the same time. (That option is labelled "advanced" but it's the default.) So you feel like you should be in that mode, but your feet are stuck, because of a tiny difference at the beginning of the gesture.

(Reasonable fix? Maybe if you're dragging-to-turn, and you leave your finger in the center of the screen for a few moments, it should switch to walk-and-turn mode. Or just make the initial drag detection less sensitive.)

The game also supports running (double-tap and hold) and walking backwards (two-finger hold). Wisely, it introduces these one at a time, rather than throwing you a big control list at startup. That's all good. I also noticed some nice guidance for walking down twisty hallways; the engine tries to keep you from getting stuck in corners.

Things get blurry again when it comes to interactive elements. Myst has always been ad-hoc about interaction -- you tap buttons and doors, but drag switches. This extends up to being a puzzle element, with discoverable variations like tap-and-hold or tap-and-wait being clued by the environment's behavior.

The distinction between tap and drag was always cued by the mouse-cursor, however. That worked in the desktop world. It didn't work so well in iOS, as I said of the original Myst iOS port, and it's even worse now. In a 3D animated world, you really want to drag doors open and closed, drag wheels around. (Amnesia: Dark Descent got this very right.) RealMyst mostly doesn't allow that, and the few draggable levers just set up a false expectation.

Really, this port should have gone farther. Myst has several combination locks that offer a row of digits, and a button below each digit to cycle it. This is a familiar model (and popular in room escape land) -- but it's a legacy of mouse-game design. In a touch world, you should drop the buttons entirely, and just let the player drag the digit-wheels up and down. As I said in a post a while back, you cue interactivity by having the wheel jiggle when tapped.

If it were up to me, I'd revamp the whole interface to distinguish moving (two-finger tap) from looking and doing (single-finger tap or drag). That still leaves a possible confusion between drag-to-turn and drag-to-move-things, but I think that would be supportable. (As long as single-tap always jiggles an interactable object.)

But I'd better drag this post out of the sucking mire of interface design natteration. Should you buy RealMyst? Again?

You've probably already decided. It's not like we haven't all faced the question before. I think of these occasional app purchases as an irregular donation to Cyan, which is fine -- I've gotten my few dollars of value just wandering the island this afternoon and reminiscing.

But I will add this note, from an online chat with Rand Miller. The topic is Kickstarter:

[...] We've gotten so much feedback from fans and friends encouraging us to do it... We've really go only two issues... First - what product to propose (it's between two - one Myst related and one completely new)... Second - we need to get enough money from realMyst to fund a good Kickstarter proposal... with some great artwork and a convincing video.

(-- Rand Miller, chat in Uru Live, May 19th)

You may ask, what, they need to raise money in order to raise money? Depends what they're going for. Jmac and I did my Kickstarter video on a shoestring -- but there was equipment involved, which Jmac conveniently had. And at the other extreme, you figure that Neal Stephenson probably spent a fair pile making that Clang video. Cyan will be aiming at the high end, if they're sensible -- so yeah, it takes money to raise money.

And no, I don't really care what kind of game they're fundraising for, as long as it's a new work. The Myst universe is comfortable. They can go back to it if they want. That risks seeming anticlimactic if they try for yet another dramatic climax for Atrus's family -- Uru and Myst 5 pretty well drained that reservoir. But there are plenty of historical corners left to explore. Contrariwise, if they try a brand-new setting, that would be cool too.

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A couple of Myst links

Heather Larkin has started adapting The Book of Atrus as a web comic. (This is the first of the three Myst novels, written by David Wingrove from Robin and Rand Miller's storylines.)

The comic starts with Atrus as a child, living in the desert with his grandmother. It's kind of adorable. I wasn't a huge fan of The Book of Atrus as a novel, but this presentation is simpler, more direct, and touching. (Only three chapters are posted, covering roughly the first two chapters of the book; we'll see if it stays on track.)

(Also: Russian translation!)

Cyan has already released Myst and Riven as iOS apps, but now they're working on porting RealMyst to iPad. (Currently labelled as iPad 2 and 3 only.)

Yes, it's yet another release of the same damn game, but it will include the Rime Age. Rime was added for the original RealMyst release and is not available in the current iOS Myst (nor other ports of the 2D Myst engine).

Also, the technology is more up-to-date. As I understand it, this uses the Unity engine. The 3D navigation looks pretty smooth -- it avoids the trauma of the virtual d-pad, at least. (Don't ask.) Unity is well-supported these days, so it would be an easy port to other platforms, or as a starting point for a new original game.

Well, we can hope.

A couple of preview videos: Myst Island and Channelwood. The release date is given as "Spring 2012", which at this point means "when it's done", I suppose.

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