Myst was once the biggest game in the world. It’s weird how it feels like we’ve all forgotten about it.
I was just a kid when the PC adventure game released in 1993, when it was a giant hit thanks to its mystifying puzzles and fantastic visuals. Myst was transformative. Its use of prerendered backgrounds and digital actors encouraged millions to add CD-ROM drives to their computers. It was a killer app that changed PC gaming — and the industry.
It’s beautiful and eerie game. At a time, when user interfaces were getting more complex, Myst was a simple minimalist. It’s just you and the world, and you interact with everything in it by clicking your mouse. It doesn’t offer much guidance; it encourages you to explore, and that exploration made up a large part of the fun.
I mean, I was nowhere near smart enough to beat any of Myst’s puzzles as a kid, yet the game left me awestruck. Remember, 1993 was still in the middle of the SNES era. Myst was on a different level, at least visually. I would just wander its bizarre island, taking in the sights and marveling at its distinct world. And I saw how Myst soon inspired the industry. Prerendered backgrounds became a huge part of the PlayStation era with games like Resident Evil and Final Fantasy VII. Myst showed everyone how the improved storage in a CD could make our games more cinematic.
Myst was a huge hit. It sold millions of copies, and it was the best-selling PC game ever until The Sims came out in 2002. Disney even came close to creating a real-world Myst Island inside of Walt Disney World (which may be a story that we should get into another time).
Myst spawned numerous sequels. The last one, Myst V: End of Ages, came out in 2005. That’s 15 years ago. Since then, it feels like we all don’t talk about Myst much any more. That’s bizarre. Most of the “biggest” games of all time seem to live on forever. We still get new Mario and Zelda games, and the originals remain popular. Heck, even The Sims — the franchise that dethroned Myst — is still around.
But Myst has been dormant for years. The closest we’ve gotten to a new game came via RealMyst: Masterpiece Edition, a remake of the original done with the Unity engine. Even that came out back in 2014 (depressingly, that’s 6 years ago). All the franchise has seen since is a few mobile ports.
Cyan, however, is trying to keep the spirit of Myst alive even if it’s working outside of the franchise. Cyan is the original developer behind the series. In 2016, it released Obduction, a spiritual successor to Myst. And that’s great! I’m glad that the spirit of Myst lives on. But, man, Obduction wasn’t a very big deal, was it? At least I never heard very many people talk about it, which seems like a weird fate for a spiritual successor to one of the most influential games of all time created by the original studio.
Maybe Cyan’s next game, Firmament, will make bigger waves. It’s another Myst-inspired game, and it was funded on Kickstarter earlier this year. And we do see Myst inspire some indie games, like 2016’s The Witness, even if Myst isn’t the indie inspiration machine like other classics, like Mega Man and Super Metroid, have become.
I wonder why Myst doesn’t resonate like it once did. You could argue that it’s a slow, obtuse game. But it focuses on a lot of the things that can still make modern games popular: exploration, a strong narrative, and creative world-building.
I hope that Myst will have a resurgence some day. I’m not sure what that would look like. Maybe Myst will get a reboot. Maybe people will just come to appreciate the original again. Maybe a spiritual successor like Firmament will become a huge deal.
Whatever happens, it feels wrong to forget about the major contributions that this game made to the industry.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.